Sunderland boss Lee Johnson vowed to approach the play-offs like “a greyhound out of the traps” after his side secured their place with a 3-1 League One win at Plymouth.
Ross Stewart’s 21st-minute opener was cancelled out by Joe Edwards’ header on 63 minutes but Argyle defender Jerome Opoku received his second booking a minute later. Chris Maguire made it 2-1 from a controversial penalty and Denver Hume scored a late third, with Lynden Gooch creating all three goals.
Johnson said: “I thought we were really good in patches with a very mobile front four and I think that showed, which was good.
“We were a bit scruffy in some of our build-up play but generally in control.
“Mainly what I was pleased with today was the attitude because it could have been nervy still. Plymouth are a good side and so it was always going to be a tricky one, so we dealt with that side of it really well apart from the 15-minute spell when we conceded.
“I enjoyed a number of our players’ performances today, there were a lot of positives out there.
“It’s a massive importance getting into the play-offs today. It wasn’t a relief because I knew we’d do it, I always had faith, but for me the relief is like ‘Bang! Here we go…’
“That’s how I genuinely feel. More than anything the boys are desperate for the mental rest and now we can actually enjoy a performance going into the Northampton game.
“I don’t care who we play in the play-offs, I genuinely don’t, so there will be no cleverness – if you like – from us. We will just do what is right for us and then come out of the traps like greyhounds when it comes to the play-offs.”
Argyle boss Ryan Lowe felt the red card was crucial with his side on top at that stage.
He said: “Sunderland are a good team, they’re in the play-offs but we were holding our own with them – but decisions have cost us.
“Without being disrespectful to Sunderland, because they are a good team with some fantastic players, but we have pit our wits against them twice now and we’ve done well both times.
“I thought we were in the ascendancy before the red card and were potentially going to score more goals as things were going well for us after we scored.
“But that’s where we want to be, we want to be up there with them. We want to be in those positions. Unfortunately this season it’s not to be but what I will say is that we’ve achieved our goal by staying in the league for another season.
“No-one likes losing but it’s about rebuilding for next season and we’ve already started. As soon as we got safe the rebuild got stronger but the rebuild has been going for weeks, since we knew what we had to replace and it wasn’t rocket science as we well know. So we will just keep working.
“As for Gillingham next week, we’ll get the players recovered and then we’ll sit down and put a plan together for next week.”