The summer transfer gamble paying off for Sunderland and Jack Ross as signing continues to thrive
Saturday could mark an important step forward for Duncan Watmore as he makes his return to league action.
It has been a long, hard road back for the 24-year-old who has cited the likes of Callum Wilson as an inspiration in fighting back from injury hell.
While Reece James suffered with ankle problems rather than his knee, he’s also a great example of what can be achieved despite losing almost two years to the treatment room.
In that sense, James has perhaps not quite had the credit he has deserved for delivering an excellent standard of performance in recent weeks.
Despite Bryan Oviedo’s availability, James looks likely to land his ninth consecutive league start when Bristol Rovers visit.
Not so long ago, he was third choice in that position.
That turnaround is remarkable enough without even considering the fight James faced before he even arrived on Wearside.
“It’s testament to not just his ability but to his character,” Jack Ross said.
“Not so long ago he found himself probably third choice in that area because of the form of Bryan and the emergence of Denver Hume.
“Circumstances meant that he got the chance to go back in and all you can ever ask is that somebody takes the opportunity.
“He’s very much done that, he’s made himself very much a fixture within the back four and the team.
“I’ve been really pleased with his contribution, he defends well but equally he still offers us that quality in possession,” he added.
“His absence during the week was just to give him a breather because he’s played a lot of football.
“I’ve been really pleased with him, I’ve no doubt he can continue that consistency of performance between now and the end of the season.”
James still believes he has morre to offer in an attacking sense and that will be music to the ears of Ross.
The Black Cats boss took a calculated gamble in bringing in James, one of the few summer signings to only get a one-year deal, when there were other players lined up in that position.
His judgement, at this stage at least, looks sound.
“I wouldn’t say there was a risk in signing him but I think we understood where he was at the last couple of years,” Ross said.
“He would probably have been delighted to get an opportunity to come to this club in terms of its stature.
“I’d agree with him, from what I knew about him previously and what I’ve seen of him in training, I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him and yet his performances have been consistently steady.
“I think some players deserve more credit sometimes than people imagine,” he added.
“For him, he’d had a couple of years where he hadn’t played a lot, and in a period like that you always question where you’re going and what lies ahead.
“It was maybe, a year where you see what happens if you like.
“He relocated, coming away from where he played most of his career in that Manchester area.
“I’ve spoken about low maintenance players in terms of Jon McLaughlin, Reece is another one of those. Trains well, conscientious, easy to manage.
“When you’ve got someone like that who produces consistent performances, it’s a big help.”
Like Adam Matthews, James is a player who will probably have to wait to see if Sunderland will offer a new contact at the end of this season.
Ross believes he could player at a higher level, whether it be with the Black Cats or somebody else.
“I think he’s a good enough player,” he said.
“You look at his pedigree as a younger player and his record in this league, he’s proven to a degree.
“He’s one who, I wouldn’t say bonus because we hoped he would do this but I’m glad he’s got there, because the early part of the season was difficult for him.”
James has been part of an effective defensive unit, with Adam Matthews hopefully fit to take his place on the other flank.
Ross knows the impotance of that continuity but admits that in the middle of a punishing schedule, some changes may have to be made at some stage.
“It’s helpful having it at times, however, this season has shown already that the regular fixtures can change that,” he said.
“The demands it puts on players, we spoke about it as recently as Thursday morning, assessing that dip in form in a player because they’re having to churn it out twice, three times a week.
“We continue to assess that but consistency of selection is always preferable.
“The game has changed, the rotation of playes happens a lot moe, but settled units within a team is always helpful.”