Jack Ross on a promising Sunderland partnership and his big tactical challenge for Accrington Stanley clash
Another 1-1 draw may have felt like groundhog day at Sunderland but Jack Ross could not have been more bullish after the visit of Blackpool.
Having watched the game back since then and reflected on the performance, there was an obvious positivity from the Black Cats boss as he prepares for the visit of Accrington Stanley.
Sunderland were far from perfect but Ross saw a performance much more in keeping with what he expects.
There were mistakes, but particularly in the second half, an energy and intensity.
Ross knows that must turn into wins sooner rather than later but he has been left with much cause for optimism.
“I was quite passionate after the game because I thought after half time, given everything, they were good,” Ross said.
“They showed a lot of courage, we camped in there second half.
“I’m delighted they got something from their efforts, it could have been more but I’m delighted they got something.
“The truth is Blackpool were a team in good form, high up the league, with a really good defensive record.
“Even speaking to some of their staff, sometimes this season I’d accept, some teams will have said ‘they weren’t that good’. Some teams will say we are.
“They thought we were good because we were.
“We were more energetic, we recycled the ball well and it did become a bit relentless.
“I’m down pitchside and physically towards the end they were holding on because they’d had to put a lot into it.”
Part of that second half pressure was due to the first prolonged outing for Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg.
Ross has consistently warned that moving to a duo up front would not automatically improve Sunderland’s attacking output, but it is something he has done before this season and he was encouraged by the signs on Tuesday night.
“I thought Charlie was much better the other night,” he said.
“He had a positive impact on the game and that is something for us to look at.
“Him and Will were good and again, it’s having the time for them to play together.
“They had 10, 15 minutes at Oxford before Will had to go off, the other night they had the bulk of the second half and looked like they would cause problems, so that’s encouraging for us.”
Key to the improvement was the encouraging performance of Duncan Watmore.
The forward was a constant threat as he completed 90 minutes for the first time since 2016.
It was a big step forward for the 24-year-old but as he continues to recover from two major injuries, he will not play against Accrington Stanley.
Which leaves Ross with the challenge of replicating the havoc he caused tomorrow night, even though he does not have a like-for-like replacement in the squad.
Lewis Morgan, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch would all be naturals in that wide position but all prefer to come deep for the ball and influence the game that way.
Whoever plays, Ross will be looking for the energy and intensity Watmore brought to a side that was struggling to create chances and openings.
“We asked Duncan to play almost as half and half between a striker and a wide player,” Ross said.
“That’s something which probably suits him down a tee.
“With Lynden, he’s done that role before.
“I thought we had a really good energy about us the other night and I think that was reflected in the personnel.
“There was an energy and an intensity. We still made mistakes but we had that.
“I think we’re best at home when we play in that manner.
“The game does burst open but I think that suits us.
“Duncan gives us something different in the final third because his first thought is to run in behind all the time,” he added.
“It just stretches the game for us and it’s not nice for defenders.
“It helps the other players on the pitch. He was really effective for us the other night.
“I think he kick-started the other players in that regard because his movement created space for us, it was almost like a domino effect.
“It’ll have to be different personnel [against Accrington] but we have to try and replicate parts of that.”