LEE JOHNSON has told his Sunderland players they cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves, despite last night’s 1-0 defeat to Blackpool having ruled out any possibility of securing automatic promotion.

The Black Cats can no longer finish in the top two after Sullay Kaikai’s second-half strike extended their winless run to seven matches.

A play-off place is not yet guaranteed, although the fact that Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic both conceded stoppage-time equalisers last night means Sunderland will be guaranteed a top-six finish provided they win one of their two remaining matches against Plymouth Argyle and Northampton Town.

That would set up a second play-off campaign in the last three years, and while the club’s record in end-of-season shootouts might be dire, Johnson will continue to accentuate the positives.

“I’ve genuinely got total belief that we can peak at the right time and individuals can bring their A game,” said the Sunderland boss. “We can’t have people sulking and feeling sorry for themselves, including me.

“Let’s be honest, the opportunity is there. When I was standing on the touchline in that first game, and we were 11th, I’d have probably taken the position we’re in now. We’ve been going so well, so no wins from seven isn’t nice to hear, let me tell you.

“But at the same time, within those seven games, there have been some good performances. It’s my job to start earning my money now, and bring a bit of special motivation to get the boys going.”

Sunderland had the better of last night’s game, but Blackpool goalkeeper Chris Maxwell made a string of excellent saves from Charlie Wyke.

That enabled Kaikai to settle things when he picked up a loose ball 25 yards out and smacked a superb strike into the top corner.

“The first half was fairly even,” said Johnson. “Both sides almost cancelled each other and I thought it looked like a leggy game, there wasn't enough spark from either side.

“Second half, it opened up a bit as it always would but you haven't got the crowd to sharpen you up and I felt it was a day when we missed the crowd a lot, in a game like after that.

“I thought after they scored, which was a fantastic strike and largely against the run of play because Burgey (Lee Burge) hasn't had a lot to do, I thought we were poor for a spell. We felt a bit sorry for ourselves until the last ten or 15, but then we had a go and created a few chances.”

Johnson’s task now is to use the remaining two matches of the regular season to start regenerating some momentum ahead of a play-off campaign that could pit Sunderland back against Blackpool.

“It's my challenge now, I think my second big challenge really since I came to the club, to retain some positivity and find that bit of magic,” he said. “I’ve got to get the boys going."