Jack Baldwin reflects on his Sunderland journey so far, long-term goals and defensive development
By his own admission, Jack Baldwin needed a little bit of time to find his feet at Sunderland.
Jack Ross waited until he was sure the 25-year-old was ready and since then he has been virtually every-present as the Black Cats launched their promotion push.
Baldwin has been highly-rated at Peterborough but the time had perhaps come for a change.
Steve Evans wanted to freshen things up and Sunderland have been the major beneficiaries.
Baldwin is a player Ross believes can grow with the club and there has plenty of evidence of that during the current campaign.
The player himself is grounded enough to admit that his form has dropped off slightly in recent weeks, but he is under no doubt that he is becoming a better defender on Wearside.
“I think I started off pretty well, putting in some decent defensive performances,” he said.
“I think I’ve gone away from that recently, I’ve not come out [of games] thinking I’ve played the best I’ve played this season.
“But as development goes, I’m training with better players every day. When Geads [Aiden McGeady] gets you one-on-one in training, you can only learn from that.
“Playing with people like that every day, as a centre-back it is good to test yourself in that environment because come Saturday, I don’t think you’re ever going to face someone like him in this league. So you do feel like you’re developing on a daily basis.
“The training ground, the amount of staff, the stadium, the fans, you know you’re stepping up,” he added.
“I’ve tried to grab it with both hands and make the most of it while I can. Being a footballer, it’s a short career. I might never have had the chance to go to the Championship but I think I’ve got a great chance to do that here. I hope it all continues for many more years.”
Baldwin has shown himself to be a talented ball-player but years of experience at this level is on show every game.
He will often go direct, particularly away fom home.
That mix has proved very useful for his manager and it is a sign of the defender’s awareness that he is adapting his game to suit the needs of the team around him.
“Before [Sunderland] I always felt like I needed to try and make something happen on the ball,” he said.
“Stepping out from the back, trying to find a forward man, trying to break lines, that kind of thing.
“Ultimately that can lead you to lose the ball but in this time I probably don’t feel like I need to force the pass as much.
“You can trust whoever you give it to in this team make something happen.
“But at times, you’ve just got to get it up the pitch. It’s always the risk-reward factor when you play out the back.”
Sunderland invested in the defender in the hope that he could grow into a Championship defender and that is a challenge he would relish.
“The gaffer is always speaking to you, communicating, about previous games and the ones coming up,” he said.
“How we feel they’ve gone. You do a lot of work with Potts and Fowls as well on the clips from games, where they feel you could have done better and what you did well.
“I obviously want to play at the highest level if I can, so we do make that step up back to the Championship then it’ll be a great test for me, another level in quality and the pace of the game. It’s one I think I’d thrive on and hopefully at Sunderland. “
“The staff are very open and honest. There’s respect, you can have a joke but you know when they want to get a message across. The balance is good in that sense.”
Continuity in defence has been key to Sunderland’s good form but Baldwin insists that competition will be vital if the Black Cats are to win promotion.
Ross has already admitted he would be open to adding one more defender in the January window.
“Consistency is key for any team that wins things,” Baldwin said.
“I can’t remember who it was but there was a team in this league that cracked the league and they’d only used 16 players or something.
“It’s nice to develop those partnerships, Tom [Flanagan] and I have a great understanding.
“The flip side is that when Glenn comes in, he brings that experience.
“And he is great to learn from every day on the training pitch so for me, either way it’s good.
“The competition drives everybody on, you have Alim as well who is an excellent professional and is fighting every day.”
Sunderland are well placed to step up their promotion push and the centre back believes the squad now have a good understanding of what they need to do.
“It isn’t always pretty in this league,” he said.
“I think there were games we drew earlier in the season we felt we should have won. I think we have a better understanding of the league now and it’s just about getting the wins.”