Jack Ross discusses his Chris Maguire challenge and the Sunderland players who could replace him
Just when Sunderland’s best team looked relatively clear, it’s back to the drawing board.
As the Black Cats struggled to create chances and settle on a regular structure, Chris Maguire roared back into form.
At his best, he is a number 10 who can bring the best of Sunderland’s wide players and offer support to the central striker in the shape generally preferred by Ross.
Now he will have to find another way to stretch the opposition defence, the popular forward out for up to two months with a broken fibula.
“When he’s at those levels he does that,” Ross said.
“I think he’d dipped a bit [before Accrington] and also sometimes with Chris, when he goes through that he can try and come too close to the ball.
“Rather than doing what he does best. When he does that he makes it very difficult fo the opposition to pick hm up and helps us with our general shape as well.
“It’s not going to be straightforward for us [replacing him].”
The return of Duncan Watmore will be timely.
Though a very different player to Maguire, against Blackpool he delivered his best performance since returning from injury.
Playing off the right but with plenty of licence to drive through the middle, he helped get Sunderland’s attacking output get back to where it should be.
That game saw Lynden Gooch move infield, a role he reprised when replacing Maguire.
It leaves Ross with much to ponder ahead of the trip to Bristol Rovers on Saturday afternoon.
“There’s not really another one in the squad that I would say is the same as Chris,” Ross said.
“With other forwards it’s probably a bit easier to compare them in terms of like for like.
“So it’s just about finding the right combinations.
“Obviously having Duncan back fit changes things again because he helps us in a very different way.
“We’ve got options and I don’t think we have to change dramatically.
“We just have to tweak things and even in the second half on Tuesday, we played for most of it with Lynden more central and George off the side.
“That helped us.
“I was pleased for Lynden coming on [against Gillingham] because he’s probably had his most challenging part of the season,” he added.
“Then obviously he’s had the change with his family circusmtances as well.
“I was pleased with his contribution.
“I thought our balance was good in the first half [with Chris] and with Lynden in there I thought the balance was good again.
“I can’t ask anymore of the players in terms of their response.”
With Gooch a doubt for Saturday, opportunity could well knock for Lewis Morgan, who has shown flashes of his quality since arriving on loan from Celtic in January.
And while Maguire is out, Ross has the option of moving Luke O’Nien further upfield.
“I haven’t discounted him as a midfielder, far from it,” Ross said.
“Especially now with Chris being absent.
“There’ll be times when he need him and utilise him in that area of the pitch.
“You make judgements on each and every selection, based on what people can see and what they can’t. “By that I mean, watching hames back and working with players every day.
“Luke got back into the team in that position and he is contributing.
“There’s loads he can learn, but there’s loads he can learn as a midfielder too.”
Should that happen then it could open the door for Adam Matthews, who has perhaps been unlucky to find himself out of the squad over the last week.
He was in superb form before picking up an injury in Accrington and O’Nien’s success has forced him to be patient.
Ross knows he will be frustrated and urged him to take his chance when it comes.
“It’s never easy,” Ross said.
“I never have a problem with players being frustrated, disappointed.
“I think as long as I continue to give an explanation, that’s helpful for them.
“I talk to my players a lot and it’s about continuing to do things problem on the training pitch and whenever they get the chance in games, because that’s the part they can affect.
“My opinion of Adam has not changed, he knows that.
“He knows he needs to work his way in and fight to stay in [when he gets the chance].
“It sounds very simplistic but that’s how it should be.”