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Jack Ross on tactical approach, where he wants forwards to improve and adjusting to opponents

BAFC 2-1 SAFC EFL League1 15-09-2018. Picture by FRANK REID
BAFC 2-1 SAFC EFL League1 15-09-2018. Picture by FRANK REID
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Sunderland’s defeat at Burton Albion told the story of a side still search for familiarity and rhythm.

Jack Ross had arguably named his boldest starting line-up yet, with Charlie Wyke, Josh Maja and Jerome Sinclair all given the nod.

With Lynden Gooch out wide and two attacking full-backs picked in Adam Matthews and Bryan Oviedo, the stage seemed set for the Black Cats to show their attacking prowess.

Instead they were overrun by an energetic Burton side, with Ross changing shape after Wyke suffered an injury in the first half.

Sunderland are waiting to hear the prognosis of that injury with Ross likely to shuffle his pack again for the visit of Rochdale this weekend.

So will he contine with two up top on home turf?

Perhaps, but the Black Cats boss believes that the fluidity of his forward line is far more important than the basic system.

That aspect is very much a work in progress.

“I think that everybody has their own opinions on how rigid systems can be,” he said.

“The one thing for me is that any system I’ve played has always had a degree of flexibility in it. If you play a 4-2-3-1 but with three midfielders, then it is one up front.

“If you play it but with two strikers, one of whom you’re asking to drop in, people watching might not be able to say whether or not it is a 4-4-2. Then, you watch other teams and they can be in a 4-3-3 in possession but out of it, it is very much a 4-1-4-1.

“These things are so fluid nowadays, I think the personnel is more important than the system,” he added.

“The number of attackers you have on a pitch is probably a better reflection of your system than where the players are. The one thing I would say we need to get better at is when we play with one and three behind, the rotation of those three and the flexibility of their movements. That’s been hampered again by injuries and the fact that we’ve had to chop and change.

“I think we’re still finding exactly what works best for us, at home and away, both. That’s not a criticism of the players, it is just due to the fact that our squad was bitty to begin with and it was all new.

“Speaking to people in the league and who’ve had success in it, that ability to be flexible has been a positive, teams who have been promoted have had that flexibility.”

Ross admits Sunderland have been surprised by the aggression of some of their opponents at the Stadium of Light this season.

Preparation has begun for Rochdale as the Black Cats look to end their three-game winless run.

“We’re pretty structured in our work every week and like all clubs that includes analysis work on our opposition,” Ross said.

“We split that fairly evenly between what we do and what we feel are weaknesses in the opposition, and then on the flip side what their strengths are and what they will try and do.

“That is constant every week, so how they’re going to approach it in terms of their system is OK. The thing we’ve had to get better at understanding is how aggressive they are in their approach in the game, which doesn’t mean committing foul after foul, it means been positive in the game.

“It can be difficult to predict, not every team who has come to the Stadium of Light has done that.

“Other teams might try and replicate it because teams have had success with it, but equally they might not think that’s the best way for them and their players. That is harder to predict, how they’ll approach things from a psychological aspect.”