Barnsley plot Sunderland revenge as Jack Ross relishes ‘brilliant’ challenge for his team
This was the high water mark in the early days of the Jack Ross era.
Sunderland’s long winning run had come to and but the Black Cats were jubilant, having fought back from two goals and a man down to snatch a point at Walsall.
Days later, Daniel Stendel’s powerful Barnsley unit arrived at the Stadium of Light.
Ross sprung a surprise, switching to a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Sunderland ran riot, three-nil up after half an hour and it should have been more. The away side rallied but a goal from Luke O’Nien sealed an exhilarating win.
Goalkeeper coach Craig Samson had been in situ for two weeks by this point, and afterwards Ross joked that this was a classic gameplan that could make his former St Mirren stalwart despair between the posts.
Barnsley are in a better place now, producing results more consistently and holding a slight advantage in the table.
Assistant coach Dale Tonge admits Sunderland exposed the defensive frailties behind their aggressive pressing style that night, and believes the squad are eager for revenge.
“As a group, that first half hour was chaotic,” he said.
“A lot of people had their worst performance of the season. We can definitely use it as motivation and it’s something we have drawn on. We identified that there were things lacking.
“A big thing was confidence within the team and the defending as a group, not just the back four and goalkeeper. We have worked on it and you can see now that they work for each other in every game.”
Striker Cauley Woodrow, one of the impressive performers that night, added: “We started poorly but we managed to get back into the game and we had good chances.
“It didn’t work out that night but I am sure we won’t start so poorly again tomorrow. We are looking forward to the game.
“It’s a massive game, second v third. We got a win at the weekend which made the gap a bit bigger and we will look to make it even bigger in this game.
“We’re in a stronger position than them and, if they do beat us, they will still be behind us but both teams will want to win. It’s a big night and we want the fans to really bet behind us because they will be a big factor.”
Sunderland will take almost 5,000 fans to Oakwell, and oss is relishing the challenge.
He believes a game like this is the perfect tonic after a bruising encounter with Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park on Saturday.
“It’s a brilliant game for us and everyone is excited about it,” he said.
“The tension it will create, the season that both teams have had and where they are in the league.
“And also, Saturday was a real tough game for the players. Nothing we didn’t expect, and I said after the game that we need to deal with that better, but the game tonight will be very different.
“It’s a tough game against a tough team and generally we respond to these occasions and these types of matches.
“I’m sure from their point of view, they’e excited about us coming as well.
“They’ll know that we’ll look to win the game, we won’t come and sit in,” he added.
“Again, these matches that have been like that this season, most recently when Luton came to our stadium, the game that day, the tempo, intensity, openness, was good.
“I’d expect this to be the same.
“We’ll set up to win and they win as well.
“They’re form is very good but I keep having to remind people, so is ours.
“You look at the stats throughout the EFL, Luton, Barnsley and Sunderland are right up there in terms of the runs we’ve had and and the records we have.
“It makes it such a good fixture.
“There are no guarantees, if you respond in the right way and play well, you still might not win but I would expect us to play well tomorrow and for it to bring out the best in the players we’ve got.“
Both sides have undergone a change in personnel since they last met.
Kieffer Moore, who impressed so many on that night at the Stadium of Light, is out for the rest of the season.
Powerful midfielders Brad Potts and George Moncur were both sold in January, while replacement Cameron McGeehan is suspended.
Sunderland have had their own upheaval and Jack Ross is set to be without five key senior players.
Nevertheless, he is expecting exactly the kind of game he relishes.
“They’re slightly different but there’s a lot of things they do the same,” Ross said.
“I think they play in a particular way, that they have done all season.
“They back themselves doing it and have had good results all season so I’d be very surprised if the game is not open tonight.
“I’d expect it to be similar to the game at the Stadium, albeit the teams might be playing slightly different ways.
“I’ve enjoyed these games this season,” he added.
“It’s well-documented that’s how I am as a manager.
“I enjoyed the game at out stadium, they were good that night but we were too.
“It was a tough game but an enjoyable one.”