Jack Ross on the training ground work that helped Chris Maguire and Josh Maja power Sunderland to victory

Sunderland manager, Jack Ross, watches his side draw 1-1 with Oxford United on Saturday.
Sunderland manager, Jack Ross, watches his side draw 1-1 with Oxford United on Saturday.
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Jack Ross praised Chris Maguire and Josh Maja after the pair executed his training ground message to perfection against Rochdale.

Maja was twice on the scoresheet and was involved in another goal as he helped Lynden Gooch with a penalty.

Maguire, meanwhile, was involved in three of Sunderland’s strikers and impressed with his all-round contribution.

That was a significant boost for Ross as he looks to keep his side scoring in the absence of Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore.

“We looked at how we’ve been best this season, and I think Josh is at his best when he has someone up front and around him,” Ross said. “The type of player Chris is suits him best in that way. What we have to keep working on, and we did during the week, is that they don’t both come too deep at the same time.

“They both have a tendency to want the ball because they’re good footballers.

“It’s just that encouragement for them to stretch the game at times, and at least one of them to do that. We did a lot of that during the week, and I thought they took that on board and did it.

“It doesn’t always come naturally to either of them, but when they do it, it stretches the game and we have more room to play in.

“We’ve had times recently where teams have tried to condense the game, and that makes it harder for our players to have those moments of quality like you’ve seen from them today.”

Maja’s brace takes him to seven league goals for the season, placing him at the top of the charts alongside Peterborough’s Matt Godden.

Ross is thrilled to see the 19-year-old thrive and again hailed his attitude on and off the pitch.

“He’s [Maja] an easy one, so as a manager, I can’t take credit for keeping him grounded or focused.

“He’s a really, really nice young man, and conducts himself in a really good way. He has a willingness to learn and get better, and even if he’s been criticised or has done anything wrong, he takes it in the correct manner.

“His attributes on the pitch, everybody can see, and off the pitch, I like everything I have to deal with. It’s a really good mix for him, and it gives him a really good grounding and foundation to go on and have a good career.

“Our responsibility is more to enhance some of the things he can improve upon, but also continue to strengthen the things he’s good at because you can sometimes get caught up on thinking a player has a weakness and trying to make that better.

“You can address it slightly, but you’re as well trying to accentuate the positives as well, and we’ll do that with him on a weekly basis.

“He’s stepped up every time we’ve needed him, and that’s something you can’t predict as a manager,” Ross added.

“You don’t know with any certainty how a young player will respond to that.

“It goes back to that question when you’re asked about players coming through your academy and who’s the next big thing. It’s so difficult to predict because until they’re thrown in to the first-team environment, with the pressures that brings, you don’t know how they’ll react.

“I know he’s had a taste of it prior to this season, but this season is really the first time he’s had to face it week in, week out and he should take an enormous amount of pride and confidence out of how he’s responded to that.

“He’s shown, ‘I can deal with that. I’m a first-team footballer, and I can deal with the pressures of first-team football at a club of this size’. I have no doubts that he’ll continue to produce what he’s doing, and I think he’ll get better.

“I think the team will get better, and I think he’ll get better too.”

Ross admitted that he took the striker off in the second half to protect him, with his options up front limited after Wyke’s injury.