Sunderland selection headache facing Jack Ross as he provides insight into dressing room spirit
As has so far proved, Jack Ross has a squad at his disposal to compete on three fronts this campaign.
Sunderland are second in League One, nicely placed for an automatic return to the Championship, through to the last 16 in the Checkatrade Trophy and are still in the FA Cup, with Bolton Wanderers awaiting the winners of Tuesday night’s second round replay against Walsall.
Ross made eight changes for the 2-0 Checkatrade Trophy win over County yet still named a very strong side with Bryan Oviedo, Max Power, Glenn Loovens, Luke O’Nien and Jerome Sinclair all featuring.
Duncan Watmore’s return dominated the back pages but there was another notable returnee.
Dylan McGeouch hadn’t featured since the middle of November due to a muscular problem but he was back against the League Two strugglers.
The centre of midfield should arguably be Ross’ biggest selection headache given the abundance of options when everyone is fit; McGeouch, Lee Cattermole, George Honeyman, Max Power, Luke O’Nien, Bali Mumba and Ethan Robson, Others can also play there, the likes of Lynden Gooch, if needed.
As it has turned out, whether it be through injury or suspension, the central midfield options have often picked themselves.
Power has missed seven games through suspension, Cattermole has been missing recently with a foot problem, though there is a chance he could return to training later this week, McGeouch has missed spells while O’Nien has taken time to adjust.
However, in recent games, Power and O’Nien have proved their worth - the ex-Wycombe Wanderers man produced a tireless display against Notts County, box-to-box, his energy levels were superb and he is always an option for a teammate.
Power spreads the play well, while McGeouch produced a classy display against County, controlling the tempo.
Ross’ midfield options were limited at Walsall with Honeyman (ankle), Cattermole (foot) and McGeouch all missing but the return of the ex-Hibernian man is a very welcome headache for the Scot to have. Ross will have to keep finding the perfect balance to ensure Sunderland maintain their momentum and extend their 16-game unbeaten run.
Ross said: “Dylan only trained Monday for the first time, but he had only missed just under a fortnight and before that he had played a lot of minutes.
“So it was relatively straight forward to throw him in. Getting that under his belt was good again.
“It helps me as a manager having that available to my squad, because I think we saw on Saturday, it was the first time in a while we had been really stretched.
“But just another one that gets an opportunity to play again and looks like he wants to be involved, and that’s the biggest compliment I can pay to my players at the moment.”
The 2-1 defeat to Burton Albion in mid-September proved a turning point for Sunderland. They haven’t lost a game since.
Understandably, morale and team spirit is high.
Ross added: “There’s been three competitions plus a lot of players that have been used. What I spoke to them before the game about was that none of those players had anything to prove to me.
“All they had to do is maintain the standards they achieve every day.
“They’re part of a group that does that, that works hard every day, demands of each other and have this desire to keep the run going whoever is playing.
“If you’ve seen the boys around the changing room that weren’t involved that have played a lot of games, they’re just as desperate for them to win the game.
“Credit to the spirit they’ve created in that dressing room, it’s been reflected in the performances.”