George Honeyman has provided Jack Ross with a major selection headache, and the Black Cats has hailed the ‘unselfish’ work of the 24-year-old.
Ross made Honeyman his club captain before the season began but he has been on the bench for the past two league fixtures.
Honeyman’s reaction has been exemplary, making positive contributions from the bench in the wins over Bradford City and Shrewsbury Town.
Alongside Lynden Gooch, Ross will be weighing up a recall for the clash with Doncaster Rovers.
The Sunderland boss believes that competition is healthy and has no qualms with making more changes to his starting XI.
If Honeyman does not start, Ross knows he can count on him in the latter stages.
“I will reward players who are doing well and remain faithful to them,” Ross said.
“Likewise if people take an opportunity it goes from there. It means your team maybe changes a little bit more than some people think necessary but if you get the balance right, it creates an environment where your players have to be bang at it.
“With George I’m aware of some of the opinions but he’s an absolute dream for a manager. Taking the playing side out of it, how he conducts himself, how he trains, how he works.
“How he’s taken on the responsibilities as captain, he’s been brilliant for me as a young man.
“Then on the pitch, the thing is we speak a lot about unselfish work,” Ross added.
“We show [the players] a lot of it, the work that is done off the ball to allow other people do things that everyone then says, ‘wow that was great’.
“That’s not always complimented or commented on, even by managers and coaches. We try to and he’s one of the ones who is brilliant at it. “The amount of runs he makes to help others play is incredible. They’re not as obvious as the stuff on the ball, and that’s not to say he doesn’t do good things on the ball becayse he does.
“The distance he covers in a game, if he doesn’t cover the most in our team he’s second.
“He’s such an important player to have in the squad.
“You get it everywhere, they might not be appreciated as much but they’re really important. He’s been really good for me and that was summed up by what he did on Saturday what he came on.”
Honeyman’s absence saw Lee Cattermole handed the captain’s armband for his 200th Sunderland start.
Ross says the exeprienced midfielder has been a great support for Honeyman as he makes his first step in the role.
“I had a chat to him on Friday and how he felt about taking the armband, and he was happy to do it,” Ross said.
“He was delighted that George has got the role and they’re very close anyway. He was happy for Max to do it as well. It was 200th start as well, I wasn’t aware of that but it was a fitting way for that to happen.”
The trip to Doncaster will also mean a reunion with a familiar face for Honeyman and a number of Sunderland’s youngsters.
Former Academy coach Cliff Bryne left the club in the summer to become Grant McCann’s assistant.
Ross knows Bryne well but does not believe his presence will give the hosts a significant advantage in the game.
“Cliff was here for a couple of months [after I arrived] before he got the opportunity to go to Doncaster,” he said.
“He’s someone I got on really well with in my time here.
“He’s a very good friend of Jim Goodwin, who took my job when I left Alloa. I speak to Jim regularly. Cliff and I still keep in touch. “He’s played an important role in the progression of some of these young players and it may help them.
“But we’ve done plenty of prep on Doncaster and I just think it’s a game between two good teams. It’s one I’m looking forward to.
“John and James watched them earlier on in the season and were really impressed and everything I’ve seen of them, I think they play in a really positive manner in terms of how they pass the ball.
“Maybe that’s good for us tomorrow because we’ve came against different styles this season. But, everything I’ve seen of Grant and his team, has been a team that tries to go and play football.
“I think the stadium and the environment will be one that we will enjoy tomorrow as well. I expect a difficult game against a team that to be where they are after 13 games, they can only be a good side.”