Jack Ross admits it was tough to leave Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman on the bench at Shrewsbury Town, but he praised both for their professionalism and game-changing contributions.
Gooch produced two assists on his return from injury, while Honeyman impressed with his tenacity in midfield.
They have left the Sunderland boss with a big decision to make as his team travel to Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night.
“Leaving Lynden [Gooch] and George [Honeyman] out was hard for me but the front four that had played in the last few games had played well,” Ross said.
“It’s all well and good having the squad because I’ve seen other clubs have it but you need them playing well. The great thing on Saturday was that the lads who came off the bench played well. It makes it harder but it’s good for us.
“The game’s changed. It is squads that win you leagues and I speak about it a lot but you need the evidence to back it up,” he added.
“It wasn’t just the players who came on and made an obvious contribution towards winning the games, but the guys who came off the pitch still made a contribution because they helped us get to 0-0 after 55, 60 minutes away from home.
“The reaction has always been good and it goes back to the communication with them to make sure we keep them abreast of where they’re at.
“George, Lynden and Luke, I never had any doubts about any of them because they’re all terrific professionals. We’ve got a lot of them in the squad and that’s healthy as well.”
Gooch has impressed in a variety of roles this season, playing on the wing, as a wing-back and even a short stint up front at the Ricoh Arena.
Ross says his direct style makes him a key asset wherever he plays.
“I think Lynden’s ability means he can play in either of those positions [wing-back or further forward] and he can play centrally, at times, as well,” Ross said.
“What he brings, his ability to go at players directly is huge in this league, he can go either side and he brings an energy out of possession too, which is just as important.
“You saw that immediately when he came on, when he pressured the defender and won a throw-in high up the pitch.
“I would never pigeonhole him into one position as he has the capability to play in those different roles that he has shown already this season.”
The win also saw Sunderland land their second clean sheet of the season.
It was worthy reward for a partnership at the heart of defence that is showing real promise for Ross.
“The centre-halves are interesting ones because I don’t think either of them are traditional League One centre-halves so we have to maximise what they’re good at and improve the areas where they have weaknesses,” Ross said,
“The two of them are good footballers and have a good understanding of the game.
“They’re both young as well so I’ve accepted them making mistakes here and there because I do believe they’ll keep improving and they’ve got a real hunger to get better.
“Even for Tom it was an adjustment because a lot of them time he’s played as a central defender it was in a back three,” he added.
“For me as a manager, and for the staff, when you’ve got players who have an appetite to get better and improve it makes your job easier.”