Jack Ross ponders a Sunderland selection dilemma as returning defender makes a big impression

It was not a night to be without one of your first choice centre backs.

Friday, 15th March 2019, 1:49 pm
Updated Friday, 15th March 2019, 1:53 pm
Jack Ross is hoping that Jack Baldwin can replicate an impressive performance against Barnsley between now and the end of the season

A crucial, highly pressurised game played in raging winds and against one of the most powerful sides in the league.

Had Tom Flanagan not suffered concussion at Adams Park days previous, he would surely have played.

Jack Ross is hoping that Jack Baldwin can replicate an impressive performance against Barnsley between now and the end of the season

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As it was, opportunity knocked for Jack Baldwin and he took it.

There was barely an error in an excellent return.

It has been a challenging season for the 25-year-old. He has thrived at times, particularly with some outstanding early performances, but he has also open about the step up in pressure and ultimately few quibbled when Jack Ross took him out of the firing line.

Few will quibble now is, as expected, that performance at Oakwell means Baldwin keeps his place for the visit of Walsall on Saturday afternoon.

"I was really pleased for him individually to begin with, because the contribution he has made this season has been good, I've always said that," Ross said.

"I think he had a difficult patch and there was no knee-jerk reaction to what we did, we stuck by him and we just felt it was the right time to take him out, to take a breather physically and mentally.

"Hopefully we saw the benefits of that on Tuesday night because he was really good, on a night that was really tough for all the defenders.

"It was a night where you can easily make a mistake, concentration levels have to be high, and I'm delighted because if he's at the levels he was at earlier in the season then it's a boost for me.

"I'm close to my players so I'm pleased for him," he added.

"It's testament to him first of all and also to what we've managed to put in place about how he felt when he came out of the team.

"He knew why because of the dialogue we'd had with him and I think he agreed.

"All through that period that dialogue has continued about where he's at and how he's feeling, he's trained well and he looked fresh, mentally and physically.

"He'll take a lot of confidence from that."

Against Barnsley Baldwin was able to showcase the other side of his game, too.

There were some good switches of play and one superb pass that should have led to the opening goal, Max Power firing just wide as he ran onto a through ball.

Baldwin takes more risks on the ball than his defensive colleagues but that's not an issue for Ross.

He knows the potential value of that, and the key for Baldwin between now and the end of the season is to ensure the defensive mistakes do not creep back in.

"I've never been critical of him for that," Ross said.

"There's been one or two defensive decisions, that's a different aspect.

"I'll accept him giving the ball away sometimes because I'd rather he did that [try and create chances].

"Hopefully he knows that and it'll be a big plus if he can stay in that form for the rest of the season."