Jack Ross on what makes a title-winning team as Sunderland prepare to face impressive Portsmouth
It's the time of year when teams talk about '˜grinding out results'.
Pitches aren’t always easy to play on, the fixtures pile up.
Teams can fall away quickly but the festive period always offers a chance for teams near the top to put themselves in a commanding position.
The League One race is perfectly poised as Sunderland travel to Fratton Park on Saturday.
Luton Town’s spectacular form has pushed them into second place but the Black Cats are comfortable enough with games in hand. Portsmouth have been excellent since day one, leading the pack for much of the campaign so far.
Like Sunderland, they have had some emphatic wins but what has set them apart is the ability to keep winning even when the games are tight.
Nine of their 14 wins have been by the odd goal.
Sunderland have regularly faced suggestions that their performances have not been that impressive.
Joey Barton and Derek Adams are just two of the many managers to suggest their teams were superior to the Black Cats in defeat.
For Jack Ross, that is partly because of Sunderland’s reputation but it is also a very canny habit to have.
The Black Cats boss has been mightily impressed with Kenny Jackett and his side and says that any teams who wins a league must have the ability to find different ways of winning.
“What they’ve shown is resilience,” Ross said.
“You don’t lead the table for as long as they have without being a good side and without that resilience as well.
“You often hear about grinding out results.
“I think that any team who wins any Championship in any era, memories can get a little foggy and in time people only really remember the really good games.
“I won a title last season.
“Were we good every week? Far from it. We just found a way to win or not to get beat.
“We were a good side but we didn’t murder teams.
“We just had a group that, because we’d won so many games to stay up the previous season, we just got used to winning.
“I remember my players, they used to say when they were warming up, they would think, ‘we’ll be alright today’.
“It’s dead easy to say but it is important and the players here I think have that, they’ve only lost 1 in 20 so they know they are a good side.
“That’s what all the good teams do at any level.
“Kenny [Jackett] has got a group there who after 20 games have shown that they can win or avoid defeat.
“I referred to it a little bit after the Bristol Rovers game.
“We’re a Premier League club in terms of infrastructure and fanbase, all those things.
“But we’re in League One.
“We’re a League One team. We want to always be better and improve but only losing 1 in 20, you can look around Europe and not many teams in any league will have managed that.
“The players have done well.
“Blowing teams away doesn’t matter. It’s about getting enough points to win promotion.”
The two teams also share some impressive talent in forward areas that perhaps also explains why they can carve out regular wins.
Portsmouth have the best defence in the league, with Matt Clarke particulaly impressive, but the likes of Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis have regularly produced goals and assists.
For Ross, that is another vital component of any league-winning team.
“You look at Aiden,” Ross said.
“We’ve also had Josh and Lynden who’ve been in good form this season in those forward areas.
“It’s easy to say after a game, they relied on a bit of individual quality. Well that’s football.
“I don’t know how many points Lewis Morgan won me last season. He was a matchwinner.
“If I was building a squad from scratch I would always want at least one of those, who can win you a match when it’s tight.
“Portsmouth have players who can do that as well.
“It’s great having that, and you’ve got a find a way to play for those players as well.”