Jack Ross reveals what is bringing out the best in Sunderland fan favourite Chris Maguire
The dogged and tenacious performance of Chris Maguire in the 2-1 win over Bradford City summed up the spirit in this Sunderland side.
The 29-year-old Scot has firmly established himself as a fans' favourite and if the end of season honours were handed out today then he'd be in with a shout of taking them all home.
Maguire was excellent against Bradford and when his team needed him the most, he delivered as the Black Cats held on for a big three points.
With Max Power sent for an early bath with 25 minutes still remaining it was going to take a determined performance to see Sunderland home.
With Josh Maja and then Jerome Sinclair sacrificed by Ross for more defensive reinforcements, Maguire was pushed into the lone striker role and led from the front, using all of his experience to buy fouls, kill time, run the ball into the corner and chase down City's defenders to stop them breaking quickly.
Lee Cattermole, sub George Honeyman also played his part, as did the rest of the Sunderland team, but Maguire caught the eye with the near 3,000-strong travelling support serenading the forward.
Ross said: "He is in a good place. His performance level has been good this season, bar a little dip for a couple of games.
"Whatever position we have asked him to play he has been very effective, he is enjoying his football, loves being at the club, has a good relationship with me and the staff.
"It brings out the best in him. He thrives in bigger atmospheres and bigger attention, that last period when he was subject to some niggly stuff, he enjoys that.
"He played an important part, as that lone striker."
Sunderland took the lead through Maja's ninth of the campaign, the 19-year-old chesting Lee Cattermole's volley into the Bradford net.
Ross said: "I think it was going wide actually, it was clever from Josh. I have clarified with him that he meant it!
"He is adamant he did as he does redirect it. He is clever in the penalty area."
Bradford equalised seven minutes into the second half through Anthony O'Connor's back-post volley before Jack Baldwin scored what turned out to be the winning goal two minutes later with a smart finish inside the area.
Jon McLaughlin saved the penalty following Power's red card offence, with a dogged and determined Sunderland holding on for the win, restricting Bradford to few chances.
Ross was also full of praise for Cattermole, adding: "The whole group helped us win the game but Lee’s performance, particularly in that period when we were down to ten men, just reflects how he is at the moment.
“He is absolutely loving his football and things have come a long way in a short period for him.
“I’m so pleased because of how he has been for me personally, I think he deserves that enjoyment and the credit he has received from supporters - that relationship has been rebuilt as well.
“He’s enjoying himself and that’s a big part of football, he is enjoying being on the pitch, trying to win games, and performing the way he is doing.
“He is going to be a very important player for us over the course of the whole season.”