LEE JOHNSON has spoken of his “devastation” after Sunderland’s hopes of winning promotion were dashed by a play-off semi-final defeat to Lincoln City.

Having suffered a 2-0 loss in the first leg of their last-four game on Wednesday, the Black Cats got themselves back to level pegging when Ross Stewart and Charlie Wyke scored in the first half of the second leg at the Stadium of Light.

However, Tom Hopper restored Lincoln’s aggregate advantage when he headed home in the second half, and while Aiden McGeady struck the post with a late shot, Sunderland were unable to keep their hopes of reaching Wembley alive.

Johnson said: “It's devastating, there's no other word for it. The boys are devastated in the dressing room, the staff are devastated.

“You could see that we put everything into it. I thought the fans were magnificent. It was my first taste of Sunderland fans, with everybody behind us, and it was top, top drawer.

“I suppose the positive is that that is the sign of things to come - the tempo we can create for the 23 home games next season.”

Sunderland now face a fourth successive season in the third tier, with Johnson admitting he and his side were ultimately unable to cope with everything that was thrown at them over the course of the last nine months, particularly when it come to their defensive injury issues.

He said: “I think there have been 40-odd things that have happened to our defenders this season, niggles, illnesses, Covid, injuries, and that took its toll.

“You reflect, don’t you? There’s obviously the cup as well because that was discussed. The club’s run out of steam for three or four years in a row after having good cup performances.

“I honestly don’t think it was that – for me, it was more the injuries to the back unit. If you go through everything, I can’t really believe it.”