JACK ROSS admits his Sunderland players were distraught in the wake of their heart-breaking play-off final defeat to Charlton Athletic, but once the pain of yet more Wembley woe disappears, he will be urging them to use the experience to power them to promotion next season.

Sunderland’s hopes of returning to the Championship were dashed in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time as Patrick Bauer’s deflected strike condemned them to a 2-1 defeat.

The Black Cats had been handed an ideal start when Dillon Phillips’ horrendous goalkeeping error resulted in an own goal from Naby Sarr, but Ben Purrington’s first-half equaliser pegged them back and Sunderland’s players were left slumped on the turf when Bauer converted Josh Cullen’s cross at the second time of asking.

Having failed to win promotion, Sunderland will spend two successive seasons in the third tier for the first time in their history, but while the mood at the final whistle was one of despair, Ross is hoping to use the heartbreak to drive his squad on next season.

“We were here not so long ago and lost in a really sore manner, but it doesn’t compare to today,” said the Sunderland boss. “I think we knew the significance of the game, and the importance of coming out on the right side of the result. To lose in that manner, so late in the game, is particularly painful.

“Right now, that feeling of disappointment is the over-riding one, because of the manner we’ve lost the game. That will dissipate over the coming days and weeks, and when you regroup and come back again and refocus on next season, that becomes your goal.

“You don’t want to go through that again. We’ve had that horrible experience twice in two months, in very difficult circumstances. They have to use that as a driver for them in the future, irrespective of what lies ahead for them in their careers.

“They have to use it as a motivation to make sure that should they find themselves here again, or find themselves in an important game, that when success or failure is determined, they come out on the right side of it.”

Ross strode on to the pitch to console his players at the final whistle, before taking time to stand in isolation to gather his thoughts.

He delivered a brief post-mortem in the dressing room, but did not feel the time was right for a surgical examination of where Sunderland have come up short this season.

He has his ideas though, and having confirmed his intention to remain in place for next season, intends to make changes to his squad in the summer. Adding some pace and creativity in the final third will be a key priority, with Sunderland’s failure to build on yesterday’s early lead once again highlighting their attacking limitations.

It remains to be seen whether new investors will now come on board, with Charlie Methven having previously claimed that the money is already in place to fund another season in League One, but once the dust settles on yesterday’s defeat, Ross will be keen to make alterations.

“Over the course of the season, we’ve had to understand which areas we need to improve,” he said. “We haven’t fallen short by very much, but we have done (fallen short).

“That means there must be areas to improve upon. We have probably been aware of it for a while, but you can’t do that much over the last few months of the season when the transfer window closes.

“You have to be big enough to reflect on what you could have done better to avoid being in this sort of similar situation next season.”

The Scotsman identified winning promotion as his key ambition when he agreed to take over at the Stadium of Light last summer, and accepts yesterday’s events mean he has come up short.

“I came here to take the club back to the Championship at the first time of asking,” said Ross. “I haven’t been able to do that, so I’ll carry that element of disappointment myself because I set high standards in everything I do.

“I came in with that ambition, and I was clear about it. But for every minute or every day that I’m given the opportunity to manage this football club, my determination to bring success to it will never diminish because it’s a brilliant club that deserves success.”

Yesterday’s defeat means Sunderland have now lost at Wembley on seven separate occasions since Ian Porterfield’s winner enabled them to lift the FA Cup against Leeds United in 1973.

The last-gasp manner of their latest disappointment made it all the more painful, and Ross expressed sympathy with the thousands of fans that streamed back to the North-East last night.

“In the build-up to the game, people pointed to the last time these two sides played against each other, but for me, it was nothing to do with that,” he said. “It was about us winning promotion and secondly putting that record right.

“A number of people have come down here with a passion for the club, and you carry that responsibility every single time. That soreness and rawness of emotion the players and staff are feeling will be shared by the fans. They will be feeling that as well.”