Jack Ross opens up on Dylan McGeouch's injury struggles and why the midfielder will still be vital for Sunderland
Jack Ross has been keen not to offer excuses this season and so he has been reluctant to dwell too much on what has been an extensive injury list.
Still, it has unquestionably had an impact and one of the biggest frustrations has been the persistent absence of midfielder Dylan McGeouch.
McGeouch’s signing was a big moment for Ross and the Black Cats, allaying many early summer fears about their ability to bring in the necessary calibre of player.
This was a midfielder who had starred for a resurgent Hibernian last season, named in the team of the campaign and attracting interest from the Old Firm and the Championship.
The 25-year-old went on to impress in pre-season, cacthing the eye as the Black Cats dismantled St Mirren, but an injury picked up at Middlesbrough derailed his progress.
He made his first start of the season against Fleetwood Town, tidy in possession but understandably lacking sharpness.
At Burton Albion, he was missing again.
McGeouch has trained this week and Ross will hope that he is able to feature against Rochdale on Saturday.
The former Celtic man has had his injury problems in the past but completed the majority of the campaign for Hibernian last time out and Ross is confident that he can soon put together a run of games.
“Expectations are always heightened when you come back that you’ll just hit a performance level that is top right away,” Ross said.
“It’s been frustrating for him and for me. It’s a jigsaw puzzle every week, juggling 20-odd players and they all have their own bodies, their own knocks and wear and tear.
“We’re learning about each and every player.
“Dylan will get there.
“He’s trained well this week and looked positive. “It is a case of building up his physical resilience but also his mental resilience, he gets frustrated because he’s maybe not hitting the levels that he’s capable of but that will come with each game.
“If you watch us train every day you might say, where’s this player or why aren’t they involved with this, because there’s a constant managing of players,” he added,
“I’m trying to push Dylan because I want to make him resilient. But there’s a fine line and we’ll continue to push that, I think we’ve got to .
“He’s still relatively young and it’s important to push him for the longevity of his career.
“It’s a new league in terms of the demands of it, and new training.
“I don’t know for definite but I probably don’t coach the same way as Neill Lennon did at Hibernian. Every coach is different in their style and demands.
“It’s about adjusting for every player.
“I think Dylan has been keen to make sure he doesn’t end up being out long-term, which has made it a bit bitty so far.
“I think we’ll get there, I think we’re certainly starting to get there.”
Ross will hope that McGeouch can bring an element of control to Sunderland’s play that has perhaps been lacking in the club’s first winless run under the new ownership.
Ross experimented with a midfield two at the Pirelli Stadium but could revert to his more familiar system with McGeouch returning.
Particularly on home turf, the Sunderland boss believes he has a big part to play in the coming weeks and months.
“One of the first things I said when I brought Dylan to the club was that speaking to people about this club, one of the things they said was the demands of playing in our stadium, how challenging it can be at times,” he said.
“Dylan is a player who will show for the ball and take the ball at all times, regardless of what is going on around him.
“We’ve seen that already.
“We’ve seen that he’s chasing that absolute sharpness that he had in pre-season but he’s still taking the ball.
“That’s a great trait to have.
“He’ll do that continually for us, taking the ball and recycling it, that’s a really important thing for the team.”
George Honeyman is a slight doubt for the Rochdale clash after missing training on Thursday, but Ross is hopeful that he will train in Friday and therefore be available for the game.
Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore are his only other injury problems.