Jack Baldwin opens up on his Sunderland challenge, form frustrations and reasons to be optimistic
Tuesday was a night of fine margins and no one felt that more keenly than Jack Baldwin.
He had been left despondent in the first half when Armand Gnanduillet spun away from his challenge and fired an effort into the bottom corner from distance.
While not spectacular, Sunderland had largely been on top against Blackpool but that moment brought about a real wobble.
In the second half Baldwin scored the equaliser and it would have been an even better result had Will Grigg converted his fine long pass through the middle.
So no one embodied the acute frustation on Wearside after a sixth 1-1 draw in eight league games more than the 25-year-old.
“It’s very frustrating because personally I find myself in the position again where I could have done a lot better for the opening goal and it kind of kicked the wind out of our sails a little bit and put us on the back foot,” Baldwin said.
“For large parts of that game we were attacking and creating chances, and Griggy rounded the keeper and found the side netting, which was frustrating.
“That’s football, things aren’t always going to fall the way you want them to.
“It’s important at times like that we stay positive and take what we can from the game.
“It can be a cruel game and if you don’t take your chances you get punished, especially at our end of the pitch, so we need to make sure going forward that we punish teams when the chance arises.”
That first-half error is all the more frustrating for Baldwin given the growing competition for places in the back four.
“I’ve said before the competition for places here is massive, especially at centre-half,” he said.
“On Tuesday we had two centre-halves who couldn’t even get on the bench, so you’re always looking over your shoulder and when you do get the chance you’ve got to make sure you do the business.
“It was frustrating the way I conceded the first goal but I’d like to think I redeemed myself a little bit at the other end. It would have been better if that was the goal to put us ahead.”
Sunderland’s frustrating run of results presents a real challenge for the current squad and Baldwin is a prime example of that.
With teams increasingly sitting deep at the Stadium of Light, the onus is increasingly on the Black Cats to carve open their opponents.
There is a balance to be struck, then, between being dynamic and also showing the patience to build pressure and not force things.
Amidst the pressure of the promotion push and the passion of the supporters watching on, that is not always easy and something Baldwin is still looking to improve.
“When I’m stepping out from the back my decision-making could be a lot better at times and it’s frustrating for me,” he said.
“I feel the pressure to be that person to make things happen and I haven’t always got to do that because we’ve got a lot of players who are a lot more comfortable on the ball and technically a lot better than I am. But at times the onus is on us to step out, attract people on and create gaps.
“You do sense [the frustration in the ground] it, yeah, but you’ve got to take it one of two ways. It can either be a weight on your shoulders and be browbeaten down or you can put your shoulders back and rise to the challenge we’ve got,” he added.
“This is the position we’ve got because we’re lucky enough to be at such a club which can draw 27,000 on a Tuesday night so you take the god with the bad. When you’re winning games the crowd are brilliant and when things aren’t going our way you can sense their frustration but that’s just normal.
“I’m a football fan myself and you do get frustrated but it’s not through lack of effort. Everyone goes out there giving their all for the badge to make sure we can get this club back where it belongs.”
The 1-1 draw with Blackpool was unquestionably frustrating and leaves Sunderland further off the promotion pace.
Yet it was a small step forward in that having struggled to create chances and get shots on target in recent weeks, in that sense they were much the better side here, and against a side pushing for the play-offs and with a very good defensive record. It left manager Jack Ross bullish and ultimately Baldwin is the same.
He is adapting to a new challenge on Wearside but feels the side showed enough to be optimistic moving forward.
“I think it comes with experience and playing at places like this, which is new for me this year but you’ve got to try and find the balance between keeping your calm and not letting your passion and your willingness to do well stop you doing your job and take over,” he said.
“That’s got to be there but you have to be calm and collected.
“That’s something I can improve on quite a bit but I get caught up in the moment because I want to do well and you’ve got to find the balance.
“You’ve got to channel the passion from the stands and if everyone can find a way to use it as a positive, that will drive us forward and with the cutting edge we need.
“The lads have to find a way to channel the frustration you might feel from not converting opportunities or not got going forward with the thrust and energy we need. It’s frustrating for everyone and no one feels it more than us because we’re the ones trying to get the job done. That pressure falls on our shoulders.
“The manager speaks about it – you can let it drown you out or you can put your shoulders back, say ‘I’m ready’ and kick on. It’s important for us we do that and come into Friday’s game with a positive mindset that we can put on a good performance.
“If we keep pushing forward and pinning teams in like we did on Tuesday, the more chances we’re going to create and the more chances these lads get, they’re going to start converting them. We’ve got to channel the frustrations and make sure when the next chance comes along you do your best to put it in the net and see teams off.”
“We’ve been working on a lot of stuff in training and each weekend things are coming into the game.
“Soon everything will come together.”
One major positive was seeing Baldiwn swoop at the near post from a corner.
He almost scored late in the day at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday, afer Jimmy Dunne had already registered his first Black Cats goal.
Grant Leadbitter has already turned what was one clear weakness into a potential source of strength.
“Grant’s on the money all the time and if we can get a run on our markers we’re looking to convert a lot more of them,” Baldwin said.
“Grant’s consistently putting it in an area for us and Jimmy scored at the weekend and me on Tuesday, so long may it continue.”