Aiden McGeady's presence ruffles League One feathers again but there's far more to his Sunderland form than meets the eye
This wasn’t the first time that Aiden McGeady’s mere presence ruffled feathers in League One.
Earlier in the season, when McGeady scored a brace at Plymouth Argyle, the match report took just two pars to mention that the Irishman once cost £9 million.
At Bristol Rovers, the curse of the salty match report returned as McGeady again made a definitive contribution.
McGeady, it was pointed out (now removed from the piece), cost Sunderland £6 million in the Premier League.
Not true, of course.
The Black Cats spent just £250k on McGeady last summer but it underlines the perception of Sunderland in the current campaign.
Having McGeady (and a significant wage bill) is seen almost a cheat. If they win, it’s down to money and individual quality.
It is clearly a major advantage and the form of McGeady is one of the key reason that Sunderland’s rivals will be nervous about the closing stages of the season.
But the assumption that McGeady’s form is inevitable doesn’t do justice to either the work of the player or his manager this season.
It’s easy to forget that the winger had no pre-season to speak of and that there were significant doubts about his future following a difficult first season on Wearside.
His success embodies what has been good abut Sunderland this season, their respect for the League and their willingness to adapt to it.
At 32, McGeady has achieved more than most in the game.
Almost 100 international caps, Champions League appearances and a raft of titles.
Yet he has embraced the challenge of trying to get Sunderland back to the Championship and made a significant impression in a short space of time, given that his season only began midway through September.
His quality in the final third was always a given but he has also shown a strong work rate and off the pitch has been an influential presence for Jack Ross.
That is to the credit of McGeady himself, but also Ross.
By his own admission, McGeady is a player who will ‘say what needs to be said’.
The first series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die underlined that and there are many managers whose first response to constructive criticism (very separate from dissent) can be to go on the defensive.
Ross has embraced McGeady’s rich experience in the game and tapped into his knowledge.
He is an intelligent player and nothing like the cliche that often goes with flair players. His assured and measured assessment of Sunderland's situation after the Gillingham win underlined that.
This was something Ross alluded to after the Memorial Stadium win.
“I don't think he always gets the credit he deserves because so much is expected of him,” he said.
“If he ever doesn't get to those levels or gives the ball away, it's almost, 'he should never do that'.
“He's an amazingly talented player, I think you have to create an environment for him that he enjoys and responds to, and I think we've done that.
“Just because he's a wide player, he's 32 now so we treat his input as important.
“I enjoy speaking to him about the game, I think it's helped get the best from him.
“His return this season has been excellent,” he added.
“He's one of those that probably enjoys the game the bigger it is, the bigger the challenge.
“Those types of players thrive on it and it spreads to other players.”
When McGeady made his first appearance at Burton Albion, his impact was instant.
It was not enough to save Sunderland from their first defeat of the season but it was the first step in McGeady’s emergence as a real leader in this squad that has proven to be as resilient as they are talented.
It has proved a fruitful relationship for Ross.
The pair have a clear synergy in how they see the game and how it should be played, which could be a driving force in the final weeks of the season.
For that, both deserve massive credit.
It would be no surprise at all if McGeady is given the chance to get to 100 caps by Mick McCarthy.
There was nothing inevitable about that six months ago and tell you everything about the way he has approached this campaign, and the platform he has been given to do so.