Jack Ross opens up on Oxford criticism and why he's optimistic Sunderland will improve attacking output
It was for many a deflating opening day, and Jack Ross felt it too.
Above all else, his frustration with that opening goal was both visible and audible.
It was a theme last season and no way to start this one, a self-inflicted wound as Sunderland gave the ball away and made their task all that tougher.
Ross wants at least seven more clean sheets this season.
He believes that is ultimately the key to promotion and it’s no secret that much of his transfer business has been done with that in mind.
He admits, though, that there were attacking issues in that draw, even if he was pleased with a lot of the general play.
“It’s one game out of 46 league games,” Ross said.
“I always have a slightly different outlook on things because I watch the game more than once. I’ve watched it probably three times, and from different angles also.
“So the post-match reaction as a manager is the one I think is most difficult to get right because it’s very quick after the game and there’s emotion involved in it.
“But after watching it again you can adjust your thoughts on it. Sometimes it can be consistent with what you thought at the time, and looking back on Saturday, I think what I said after the game I still stand by.
“I thought our general play was good, we had a lot of opportunities in terms of working the ball into the final third, it was just our final ball, either from wide areas or within the box, just wasn’t good enough,” he added.
“I said that immediately after the match and having watched it again it would be a fair criticism.
“So a lot the parts of the play and what we’ve worked on were good. The last part, which is the hardest part and also the most important part, we need to be better at.”
So what went wrong?
Opening day nerves leading to poor decisions and poor execution, or structural issues that need addressing?
“It’s difficult to say for certain because a lot of those players you would back when they get into those good areas,” Ross said.
“What I would say is there were some decent balls into the box as well, I think part of it was that last bit of sharpness in the box to get on the end of something and part of it was a bit of misfortune.
“I think it was combination of all those factors.”
There has been plenty of criticism this week but Ross was eager to stress some of the positive signs he saw.
In particular, a good balance in midfield and a very encouraging performance from Dylan McGeouch, who he fought to keep on Wearside after a mixed opening campaign.
“After the Heerenveen game we looked at making sure we had enough players ahead of the ball and having that balance in midfield to ensure we had that,” he said.
“It was about making sure your two midfielders don’t come deep so you have five, six players behind the ball.
“We did quite a lot on that during the week and I thought our balance in that area of the pitch was good. Dylan and George did well, it allowed us to have at least one of those more advanced.
“You have to switch the ball into wide areas well and we did, we got Denver and Lynden into good positions high up the pitch.
“A lot of things we had worked on came to fruition,” he added.
“We saw it in flashes from Dylan last season.
“Even after the Heerenveen game we spoke to him because we didn’t want him to slip into being too safe in possession.
“Against Oxford he was good, he played forward a lot, trusted himself and found himself high up the pitch.
“He showed he’s a good player and now it’s just about maintaining those consistency levels.
“When we spoke in the summer I maintained that he would get an opportunity and he’s got that at the moment.
“Ideally, when you start the game you want to start positively and then go ahead.
“But that period after Oxford scored was probably the point when we were most uncomfortable in the game, so you need those players to bring a certain calmness back to the game on the ball and overall I thought he did well.”
It was a new-look frontline but Will Grigg again found opportunities limited.
Ross admits that it is ‘bothering’ the Black Cats striker.
“I speak to Will a lot because it’s my job to get the best from players,” he said.
“It’s been a tough period for him, we’re trying as much as we can to help him through that in terms of what we do in training and then what we do within games.
“He’ll have to play his way out of it as well.
“He cares a lot about his football, it’s bothering him, he wants to be successful here and right now it’s just not happening for him.
“But he’ll back himself to come through it given his previous record.”
Grigg’s partner made a positive impression on debut, and Ross believes that Marc McNulty will only get better.
“I was really pleased with him, because he’s playing a bit of catch up,” Ross said.
“The position he was in at Reading, he was training but not with first team players, he’s settled in quickly and has got a bit about him as a character as well.
“I think he’ll thrive under the pressure of playing for us. He was bright and lively and showed what he’ll give us. He was unlucky not to score in the early part of the game.
“He’ll get better as we go on, he’ll be good for us.”