JACK ROSS has hit back at Portsmouth claims that Sunderland over-celebrated after Saturday’s victory at Stadium of Light by insisting his players had every right to be satisfied by securing an advantage ahead of tonight’s second leg on the south coast.

The Black Cats were accused of celebrating “like they’d won three or four nil” by Pompey winger Gareth Evans, who went on to claim the “tie was not over” and that Kenny Jackett’s men were looking to “batter” their opponents in the return game.

Ross was surprised by the reaction and has tried to keep his players focused on the task of staying in front after securing the 1-0 goal lead from the first leg on Wearside, even though he knows Portsmouth will want the heat to be turned up for the fixture.

“I haven’t read the comments but I have had them pointed out to me,” said Ross. “It’s not true, we didn’t over celebrate, anyone who was at the game knows that.

“I have never been bothered about teams celebrating, loads of times this season when teams have beaten us they have celebrated and so they should.

“You are meant to enjoy winning matches aren’t you? You take it, accept it and you make sure you don’t want to see that team celebrate again. That’s the easiest way to describe it. It doesn’t really bother me.

“It’s not something I have spoken to the players about, whether they are speaking about it amongst themselves I don’t know. For us it is about our preparations and we understand how we want to play. We understand what we face.

“There’s a large element about Thursday night, you can do a lot of preparation but we know because of the intensity of the game, so much at stake, that it just comes down to finding a way to win. I don’t pay too much attention to some of the external stuff going on.”

After Maguire’s winner on Saturday night there was some pushing and shoving that greeted the final whistle when the match-winner got involved with Portsmouth defender Christian Burgess. Given the importance of tonight’s return leg, with Wembley and promotion on the line, Ross expects a greater edge to what has been the case in previous meetings.

The Sunderland boss said: “From the touchline I have never felt any of the games have been overly physical. I have not seen challenges that have been over the top from either side.

“There are two teams who have committed players, who know what is at stake, the prize at stake. When you add the cup final into the mix, the emotion involved in that, the players are the ones who will know that.  “There is probably a lot said that I am not aware of, that might bring a different dynamic to it. From the touchline Kenny and I have not exchanged one crossed word in four games. The two of us have been focused on the performance.”

Sunderland have also had the experience of playing at Fratton Park in a significant fixture before, when Portsmouth defeated them before Christmas when there was another full house. Sunderland will have a reduced allocation of 2,000 fans among a 21,000 capacity stadium.

Ross said: “Portsmouth were top of the table at the time, we were second or third, wrongly as it has turned out people looked at it as almost a title decider in December. The atmosphere on that day was good.  “Will it be better? Possibly. I can’t imagine it will be much difference because they made a lot of noise that day and got behind their team. Certainly in the first half prior to the red card we showed we could deal with it.”

Sunderland’s first choice penalty taker Aiden McGeady remains doubtful with the foot problem that prevented him from playing in the first leg, so he will be assessed late to determine if he can figure. The chances are he will start on the bench.  The Sunderland manager fully expects the occasion to be a close-run affair, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of another penalty shoot-out like March’s Checktrade Trophy final defeat when Lee Cattermole missed the crucial spot-kick.   “There’s potential of penalties, we seen how the final went and how close the games have been contested. We don’t want it to go that far but we have already seen it in one of the League Two play-off games,” said Ross.

“I have always worked on the basis that we practise penalties but equally you don’t know who is going to be left on the pitch, you don’t know how they are physically and mentally. It will be based on who is in the right frame of mind to take one at the time. I will not rule out anyone.”