Jack Ross sets this Sunderland challenge for Chris Maguire as he reflects on popular forward’s importance

Jack Ross has challenged Chris Maguire to reproduce his sparkling cameo against Accrington Stanley every time he takes to the pitch between now and the end of the season.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 6:00 am

Maguire returned from a spell on the sidelines to salvage a point and now looks certain to reclaim his place in the starting XI against Gillingham.

It will be his first league start since the 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe United last month.

Maguire has been a key player for the Black Cats this season, particularly in the early stage of the campaign when Ross faced a raft of injury problems.

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The 30-year-old has fierce competition for his place now but Ross knows how big an impact he could have.

A natural number 10, he can, at his best, help balance a side that looked uncertain at the turn of the year.

“He was very good [on Friday],” Ross said.

“Chris has played a lot of games for us, a lot of minutes.

“He’s made a big contribution.

“When he plays at the level he did on Friday night, he’ll always play in my team.

“Because he’s got quality, he’s probably one of the best at understanding that system and that position because of his willingness to drop into different areas of the pitch and move people around.

“But he’s got to be at that level.

“That level has got to be the same in games and in training,” he added.

“When he’s at that level he knows he’ll play.

“The relationship between Chris and I has not changed one jot during this period where he’s not been playing because he likes it here and he knows what we’re doing with him.

“He’s got to be at that level every time.

“He knows that, and he’ll keep contributing to our season.”

Maguire’s return is likely to come at the expense of Charlie Wyke.

The striker has faced criticism for his form after a season that has been severely disrupted by injury.

Ross said he would monitor Wyke’s confidence, and had singled him out for praise after the 1-1 draw with Blackpool last week.

But he hinted that the 26-year-old might benefit from a breather, as Maguire himself did.

“There’s a constant responsibility on me and my staff to understand how players are feeling,” he said.

“Some players a really robust. Some will tell you they’re really robust and they’re not.

“Some will very obviously be fragile at a certain time and you have to help them.

“That is our constant responsibility, to pick a team capable of winning a game but also mentally in the right place.

“Sometimes you need to have a breather to regain confidence or readjust.

“A bit like Chris, that time out has maybe enabled him to refocus a little bit. He was back to the form that he showed for large parts of the season.”