Jack Ross explains Sunderland's key attacking improvement against Accrington and the big decisions he now has
Sunderland needed a win on Tuesday night and the selection of the manager reflected it.
Not just because of the strength of the side, which saw six changes but a host of established senior players in the XI. It was reflected in the attacking nature of the team and the number of players whose natural game is to play in the final third.
It was a 4-4-2 shape but with Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire, it often looked like a 4-2-4.
The result was an open game, one in which Sunderland left space for Accrington to attack but also significantly increased their own output in the final third.
Their shot count was better, they worked the opposition goalkeeper more and they could easily have had more than the three goals they registered.
Jack Ross has consistently played down the importance of systems so far this season, and never more so than in the past few days.
He felt the main difference, in the second half at Ipswich Town, and throughout the game at Accrington, was a better application and execution of the ‘fundamentals’ of the game.
Before the clash with Portsmouth, however, he also spoke of how important greater ‘bravery’ on the ball had been, and whatever team he picks on Saturday, he wants to see more of the same.
“We’ve spoken a lot about, because of the pressure here, if you don’t play forward enough, you don’t really give the ball away,” Ross said.
“If you play forward more you have more chance of giving the ball away, that’s natural.
“So we did a lot post-Ipswich because in the first in particular, we didn’t play well and didn’t do the basics, but we were guilty of going sideways and backwards so often.
“At Accrington we had a lot of players in forward areas but we played the ball forward a lot more and were a lot braver, braver to potentially make mistakes in possession and I’ll take that. I would rather that.
“To play here you’ve got be prepared to prepared to play forward and if you give it away people [will be disappointed].
“There is always a balance but we feel as if we’ve got good players in the final third.
“It’s a balancing act in how many we have on the park and how that affects us at the other end. The good thing is we now have four who have scored goals already.
“That’s encouraging at this stage of the season.”
That change of attitude was embodied at Accrington by Chris Maguire, who played his team into trouble on a couple of occasions but forced the opening goal with a pass of exceptional quality.
That’s the kind of risk Ross is referring to and it applies to all of his creative players.
“If a player had it all they would be at the top level and even then, players at the top level make mistakes,” he said.
“It’s just encouraging us to be bolder. It’s not about gambling, it’s about educated risks and being prepared to take any flak if you give the ball away.
“It’s possible to play football without giving the ball away but you’re probably not doing an awful lot in the game if you’re doing that.”
That improved performance has left the Black Cats boss with a number of big decisions to make ahead of Portsmouth’s visit.
Nowhere more so in midfield, where Max Power was excellent throughout the contest.
Despite his frustrations with the results and elements of the performances, one positive Ross highlighted from those opening two games was the midfield pairing of George Dobson and Dylan McGeouch.
Ross said he would be keep in mind those individuals who did start the campaign well, but a chance for Power is clearly nearing.
In defence, a strong showing from Alim Ozturk has also given his manager a dilemma.
In Power’s case, Ross believes he is in excellent shape for the campaign ahead.
“It was a difficult pre-season for Max with that injury but he works incredibly hard at his game and he’s got a routine he sticks to,” he said.
“He trains hard and I’ve thought that coming back for pre-season, even though he wasn’t working with me to begin with, he looked leaner and is if he was in a good place fitness wise.
“Sometimes he can believe he’s further ahead than he is fitness wide so I think he’s been itching to get back involved, but the other night showed that he’s ready to go, even if a little bit of fatigue kicked in at the end. He’s more or less there.
“His performance against Accrington showed why we brought him to the club and his performances in the early part of last season as well.
“Physically I think he looks leaner and stronger and I think he feels it as well.
“That performance level the other night is what he can give, he’s a good player, I was really pleased with him.
“I wanted those coming into the team on Tuesday to give me that difficult decision, it makes your job more challenging but there’s only two scenarios when that’s the case, when everybody is playing poorly or everyone is playing well. I think on Tuesday those who started and those who came off the bench would have grounds to say they deserve to be in serious consideration for the game.”