Jack Ross explains exactly why he feels Sunderland are turning a corner and the tactical balance he needs to get right

Jack Ross marked this out as a pivotal week for Sunderland.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 8:00 am
SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: Sunderland manager Jack Ross during the Sky Bet League One match between Sunderland and Accrington Stanley at Stadium of Light on February 15, 2019 in Sunderland, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

His side had taken some criticism after a flat 1-1 draw at Oxford United and it was fair.

The Black Cats had created fewer chances, looked toothless in attack and even if they were unlucky to concede late on, there were concerns over the direction of the team.

A lack of shots on target and clear openings in the final third was becoming a pattern.

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Two games later and the his side have been unable to break the frustrating pattern of draws.

But Ross cuts a far more positive figure now.

Against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley his side have been far from perfect.

They have conceded sloppy goals and had spells in both games where their composure has been badly lacking.

The flipside is that they have created far more chances than their opponents, and have looked for the most part much more like the kind of side you expect from Ross.

That gives the Sunderland boss cause for optimsim even if it has made him even more frustrated with the lack of three points to add to the total.

“Like everybody, you get so caught up in the emotion with football,” Ross said.

“That’s what makes it so appealing.

“But I always get the chance to watch the games back, Friday’s game with both the broadcast footage and a wide angle camera.

“So I’ve watched it three times.

“The last few weeks I’ve been sat here really frustrated because we weren’t playing well.

“That worried me more [than the results].

“In that period I was more uptight because I was searching all the time, how do we create more? How do we were play better? Because we weren’t creating an awful lot.

“The last couple we’ve created much more and looked much more fluid in the final third.

“It’s just a case of keep doing that and believing that if we keep doing that, we’re going to win games.”

Crucial to that improvement has been the way Ross has been able to create more open games at the Stadium of Light.

There is a downside to that, seen in the way Accrington capitalised on the spaces in Sunderland’s 4-4-2 during the home side’s vulnerable moments.

Ross rues the early missed chances above all else and believes getting ahead would make a significant difference in the quest for the win.

“You break it open with the hope and the plan that you then go ahead in the game,” he said.

“The control of the game then becomes different.

“At the moment we’re breaking the game open, creating opportunites but not taking them. Then we’ve conceded and the game remains burst open because we’re chasing it.

“Then you’re more vulnerable.

“The last couple of games have probably been good for the neutral, they’ve been pretty open and expansive.

“It would be nice for us to get ahead in games, then you can actually let the game unfold and pick your moments.”

Ross will almost certainly return to the 4-2-3-1 as he searches for that right balance, with Chris Maguire replacing Charlie Wyke.

There may also be defensive changes, with Tom Flanagan waiting in the wings as Jack Baldwin and Jimmy Dunne go through a difficult spell.

The Black Cats boss did point out, however, that recent games have presented unique challenges for his defensive pairing.

“They’re both young as well,” Ross said of his cente-halves.

“You always look at your personnel choices, who is in the best form and frame of mind.

“Then it’s also what protection they have in front of them.

“Recently we’ve had to chase the game a lot. From the start because there’s that onus on us to do it, even more so than there was in the early part of the season because of this desperation to win.

“So it’s a striking a balance.

“We can’t be as open as that in every game because we’ll play against teams that have good quality in the final third.

“But I’d rather draw a game like the last two than like Scunthrope and Oxford.

“They’ve been more, enjoyable isn’t the right word because it’s never enjoyable when you don’t win but there has been a bit more freedom about our play.”

Ross knows that with Luton and Barnsley thriving, that greater freedom has to quickly turn into results.

A long run of wins is needed but the only way to do that is to keep improving on the recent template of carving out more chances and creating more openings than their opponent.