The return of this Sunderland player could solve a problem position for Jack Ross

'The lure really is the size of it, the club and the fanbase, and the passion for the game in the area.'

Tuesday, 25th September 2018, 11:00 am

When Tom Flanagan arrived at Sunderland this summer, one of a dozen new faces brought to the club by Jack Ross, he spoke in glowing terms about the club, the fanbase and the potential he would hope to unlock on Wearside.

The 26-year-old former Burton Albion defender, comfortable in any position across the backline, arrived on a free and was one of those to quickly catch the eye in pre-season.

Tom Flanagan.

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Assured, comfortable on the ball, Flanagan reads the game well and fitted perfectly into Ross’ way of playing.

Fate then cruelly struck for him when he was stopped in his tracks by a knee injury on the eve of the new season.

It would lead to him missing five weeks of action including the opening seven league games.

Flanagan had to be patient and didn’t make his league debut for Sunderland until the visit of Fleetwood, coming on as a second half sub.

Ross favours a 3-5-2 system but in Flanagan’s absence the right-sided centre back role had become a problem position.

Adam Matthews struggled in recent weeks while Alim Ozturk, it is fair to say, is yet to set the world on fire on Wearside.

Glenn Loovens and Jack Baldwin needed a reliable third wheel at the back and Flanagan fits that bill.

Against Rochdale, the Northern Ireland defender produced an assured performance on his full league debut.

And Ross has welcomed Flanagan’s return and the extra competition for places at the heart of his defence, with Flanagan replacing Matthews in the back three.

Ross said: “He’s somebody that was unfortunate to pick up the injury so late in pre-season.

“I had a chat with Adam about making the decision, and he understood it.

“Again, Adam is somebody who should be in my reckoning every week with the pedigree he has and the quality he’s got.

“That competition for places has grown now with players coming back fit, and Tom’s work pre-season meant he was always going to be very much considered for selection as soon as he got fully fit.

“He’s worked back to full fitness, he’s there now, and I thought he took his opportunity in the game.

“That will continue to be the case for players.

“I’m pleased for him, and pleased we’ve been able to show that changes in personnel haven’t affected us in terms of results.”

Flanagan is expected to keep his place in the Sunderland side for the trip to the Ricoh Arena, with Sunderland looking to build on the 4-1 win over Rochdale.

The Black Cats will be backed by almost 5,000 away fans at Coventry City.

Early days but the return of Flanagan could solve what had become a problem position for Ross.