‘Crunch time’ for Sunderland as they aim to strike back at Portsmouth, Barnsley and Luton
Sunderland manager Jack Ross is insisting his troops must step up their League One promotion bid during a run of three home games to come.
He believes the games will be vital in the race to make up ground on Pompey, Barnsley and Luton – and help their pursuit of one of the two automatic spots to go up.
Sunderland drew 1-1 at Oxford on Saturday.
Marcus Browne denied Sunderland victory with an 87th-minute equaliser in an entertaining draw.
Meanwhile, Barnsley and Luton both won, while Pompey were held 1-1 at Plymouth.
Now Sunderland are looking to a run of home games to start a charge.
Ross told the Sunderland Echo: ‘We’ve got a huge seven days from Tuesday, three games at home, it’s massive for us. There’s no point disguising that.
‘If we win, we’re in an OK position. If not, we deserve a bit of criticism.
‘Anytime we don’t win, it’s deemed as not good enough. "The reality is away games are tough, Oxford didn’t make it easy today. "The only way the point becomes of any benefit is if you win those home games. "They’re not season-defining, but they are vitally important.’
Sunderland are fourth, two points behind Pompey with two games in hand.
In their next three games they play Blackpool, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham at the Stadium of Light.
Barnsley are third with a five-point gap to Sunderland having also played two more.
Leaders Luton have a six-point cushion to second spot having played one game more than Barnsley.
The Hatters equalled a club record 19 Football League games unbeaten with their 3-0 victory against Wycombe on Saturday.
James Collins’ 19th goal of the season and substitute George Moncur’s late double were enough to match a sequence set twice in the late 1960s.
Luton went close early on, Collins' powerful drive deflected over, while Andrew Shinnie fired at Ryan Allsop from 20 yards.
Danny Hylton was denied by Allsop from close range, Luke Berry hammering the rebound off target.
Barnsley won 4-1 at Gillingham and are now three points clear in the second automatic spot.