JACK ROSS is already proud of what Sunderland have achieved since suffering relegation from the Championship 12 months ago, despite missing out on an automatic promotion spot this time around.

But the Black Cats boss, knowing a return to the second tier is not essential for the club’s financial stability, has revealed the burning ambition he holds to succeed year on year so he is desperate to guide his squad out of League One at the first time of asking.

Disappointment has grown in recent weeks after the disappointment of ending the campaign with just one win from their final seven league matches, so confidence and the mood has needed repairing a little this week ahead of the first leg of the play-off semi-final with Portsmouth.

An initially slow take up on tickets for the Stadium of Light fixture suggested the supporters’ spirits have also been dampened down following the defeats to Fleetwood and Southend United, leaving Barnsley and Luton to go up automatically.

Now Ross - buoyed by the return of Aiden McGeady, Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman for the double header with Pompey - is focused on ensuring his first season in the North-East ends in a success story, which is what he demands from himself anyway.

“From an overall point view, promotion starts the process of getting the club back to the level that everybody who follows the club believes it should be at. Now, you’ve no divine right to be there, so it’s a long, hard process to get to that point,” said Ross.

“Beyond that, in terms of finances and the impact of being in a higher league, revenue and costs, it’s better answered by other people at the club. For me as a manager, I came here to be successful.

“I made the choice to come to this club because I didn’t want to be in this league for more than one season. I could have managed in a higher league right away (after an offer from Ipswich), but I came here to do that.

“It’s very obvious in terms of my own ambition, but my own ambition is probably a by-product. What the club can achieve is more important. Certainly for me, I’ve crammed a lot into a short managerial career and I always want to be striving for success.

“I’ve never had a season in mid-table obscurity as a manager. I don’t know if I’d ever like it. Maybe it would be easier, but I’ve never had it, so this pressure to achieve success I enjoy because I would rather be striving for something every day.

“It’s been a long slog this season to get to the point where we still have a chance to do that but it’s what I want to do and it’s why I feel good coming into work this week, I’m excited and feel fresh and I’m looking forward to the game and hopefully coming out on the right side of the result.”

Ross insists he has not needed to be lifted since missing out on a top two place, even though he was critical of his players at Southend last weekend when he was angry at the way his team ended the campaign.

“I dealt with it pretty quickly to be honest. I say this to players all the time: you can never affect anything that’s gone on before. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

“Once a mistake is made in a game, it’s done, you can’t do anything about it. Once a goal is conceded, you can’t take it away, all you can try to do is score at the other end.  “Once automatic promotion goes, there’s nothing you can do about it and so the focus then turns to what you can affect and what you can affect is the way we play these play off matches and the results we achieve from them. It was instant really. The great thing about having another focus is that it then helps you to avoid wallowing in it. That’s good as well.”

There is no disguising that among the fans and nationally the perception will be that Sunderland have failed if they do not go up via the play-offs. Promotion is exactly what is being sought from within the corridors of power too, even though financially another year in League One will not be disastrous.  Ross said: “I said at start of the season, the ambition was always to win promotion. If you gauge it in terms like that, then yes, we will not have achieved what we wanted to achieve if we don’t achieve promotion.  “If you gauge it in terms of what we have done as a club since the summer, that is a different argument. People judge football on end results and there is an element of that where it is fair to do so and an element that is unfair when people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes.  “I think culture change is a most interesting thing because most think it takes two or three years to do and we have to change that within weeks, months.  “And we are a club which suffered two consecutive relegations and had not been used to winning matches regularly for a long, long time. And it has also gone under a lot of upheaval.  “It will take years to recover in my opinion. That’s not saying we do not want to get promoted and should not want to get promoted. That should be our ambition but a lot of damage was done at this club over a long period of time. And a big support and a big club does not necessarily mean you can turn that around overnight.”

There has often been a feeling of fatalism on Wearside, an expectation of getting close to achieving and then falling short. He hopes the last week’s build-up to the visit of Portsmouth will help Sundnerland gain the upperhand after tonight’s first leg.

Ross said: “I don’t think we’ve tried to play it down because I don’t think people would believe you if you played it down anyway because they know the significance of the games and they also know the expectancy upon our shoulders.  “It is more about making sure that the players, you heighten that with them but make sure they are in the best place to deal with that. Speaking to them individually, I sense that they are in the same mindset as me, they are looking forward to these games, they are determined to achieve success this season.  “They have put a lot into it, a lot of hard work, a lot of decent performances, ground out results, finished with a points total that is still pretty healthy. If we’d been a bit higher, we would have got what we wanted automatically. There is a real determination to get success.”