SUNDAY’S defeat at Coventry City might have been a big opportunity missed, but Lynden Gooch insists Sunderland still have their sights set on automatic promotion.

The Black Cats missed out on the chance to climb into the top two for the first time this season when Matty Godden’s second-minute strike condemned them to a 1-0 defeat at St Andrew’s, and enabled their opponents, Coventry, to pull two points clear at the top of the table.

Sunderland remain four points adrift of second-placed Rotherham United and a point behind third-placed Portsmouth, who also have a game in hand, but with ten games still to play, Gooch is adamant automatic promotion remains a realistic ambition.

A number of results went in the Wearsiders’ favour at the weekend, and eight of the club’s final ten matches pit them against teams outside the current top ten.

“We’ve come on in leaps and bounds since the turn of the year, and there’s still a lot of points to play for,” said Gooch. “It’s so tight, and I think it’ll go down to the final weekend. You see how tight the table is, and you saw this weekend that anyone can beat anyone in this league.

“Not much has really changed because of the weekend, to be honest. We’re still in the hunt and we’re not far away at all, so we’ll just keep plugging away. We’ve just got to keep going and take it game by game, put (the Coventry defeat) behind us and look forward to Saturday.

“I try not to look at the table too much, but I know how tight it is and next weekend we could be closer to the top two again It’s just the way this league is - it changes every week and we just have to keep going.”

As a first step, Sunderland have to cut out the slow starts that have proved so costly in the last two games.

Having conceded in the fifth minute against Fleetwood, the Black Cats were a goal behind after just 95 seconds at St Andrew’s and Phil Parkinson will sit down with his squad this week to discuss why they have found it so difficult to get going in their last two outings.

Sunderland profited from a second-minute goal of their own when they won at Oxford recently, and Parkinson will demand a marked shift in early impetus when Gillingham visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

“The poor start has cost us, so it’s definitely something we need to look at,” admitted Gooch. “We’ll be back in over the next couple of days and analysing what we haven’t done well in the past two games where we’ve not started well. We need to do better in that respect and give ourselves a better platform in games.

“The first goal is always massive in games. We’ve done really well since the turn of the year, starting games well and giving ourselves a good platform to go on and win games. We just need to look at what we’ve done differently in the past two games and correct that.”

A lack of goalscoring threat was also an issue against Coventry, with a couple of first-half half-chances from set-pieces the closest Sunderland came to scoring aside from Max Power’s deflected second-half strike which was rightly chalked off for offside after the ball flicked off Luke O’Nien’s heel.

Gooch didn’t really threaten at the weekend, but the American has been in fine form as he has claimed ten league goals this season, making it easily the most productive campaign of his senior career. Not, however, that he is about to start resting on his laurels.

“My original target was to get into double figures,” he said. “I’ve done that, so I just need to keep going. I’ve scored ten goals this season - or 11 because I want to claim that goal against Lincoln - but we’ve just got to keep grinding out results.

“We haven’t won in two now, so it’s important we return to winning ways next weekend. I don’t really have a target in mind for myself now, I just want to keep trying to help the team get results.”

Meanwhile, Duncan Watmore should be available for Saturday’s game with Gillingham after missing the defeat to Coventry with a bruised heel.

Watmore travelled to St Andrew’s with the rest of the squad but was left out of the matchday 18 as a precaution after complaining of pain in his heel.

However, the problem is not regarded as serious and he should be available in four days’ time.