Jack Ross opens up on defender's uncertain Sunderland future in detailed transfer update
Jack Ross admits that Jack Baldwin could have a decision to make on his future this month.
A regular in the side last season, Baldwin has been noticeably out of favour at the beginning of the current campaign.
His involvement in the matchday squads has been limited to being an unused substitute in the 3-1 Carabao Cup win over Accrington Stanley.
Baldwin could move to a fellow League One side before the window shuts on Monday September 2nd.
Ross did insist, though, that he would be more than happy for the 26-year-old to stay and fight for his place should he choose to.
“Jack had a good start to his time here and then he had a difficult spell,” Ross said.
“He lost his place in the team and like everything, you can only play two or three central defenders and then usually only have one on your bench to give you that cover. So it’s a numbers game really.
“I speak to Jack a lot, he knows that to be guaranteed to play regularly he might have to consider other options, but his attitude and approach to things means that I would have no hesitation in using him if we needed him or the opportunity arose for him, because he’s continued to do things in the proper manner.
“It’s just the nature of the game at times, you can lose your place through form and then it’s just waiting on the opportunity to arise.
“[An exit] is just something that possibly [might happen],” he added.
“He knows where’s at and I think at a certain point players have to decide, how long have they been out of the side, do they need to be playing etc.
“I know that if we need to have that conversation we can.
“Selfishly, for me, it’s no problem [if he stays],” Ross continued.
“I’ve got a player there that does everything right on a daily basis, conducts himself properly, trains properly, does extra, engages with my coaches in terms of learning and developing.
“That’s great for me, but I also always, always appreciate that players want to play.
“That’s why we have regular conversations to make sure he’s ok.”
Baldwin finds himself behind Alim Ozturk, Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan in the pecking order, while Ross also has the currently injured Glenn Loovens in his squad.
On occasions where he has played three central defenders, summer signing Conor McLaughlin has played on the right of the trio.
Ozturk and Willis have taken their chance to impress in the last two wins and while Ross remains keen to see his team’s clean sheet record improve, he has recognised encouraging signs.
“Alim was unfortunate not to start the season because he had arguably ended last season the best,” Ross said.
“System-wise it maybe counted against him, but he and Jordan took the opportunity to play together on Tuesday and their performance was really encouraging.
“They continued that on Saturday against a good forward line, some really good attacking players and they handled it well.
“Not just in their general play, but towards the end of the game where you have to defend your box well, and that happens in this league, they did that well.”
Willis in particular is going from strength to strength and after scoring his first goal for the club in the win over Portsmouth, Ross believes he can only get better as his physical condition improves.
“He missed a lot of pre-season, we signed him just before we went to Portugal so he missed probably the first two weeks and we did a lot of work then,” Ross said.
“So he’s been playing catch-up fitness wise and you’ve seen him cramp up a couple of times towards the end of games.
“Saturday was the best he has looked physically.
“Then there’s all the other factors, a relatively young man relocating and adjusting to life at a different club and the expectations that goes with it.
“He’s handled it well in terms of how quickly he looks to have settled.”
Chairman Stewart Donald told the Roker Rapport podcast on Saturday that he will back Ross to bring in the competition at left-back he badly needs before the window closes.
He also hinted that the Black Cats boss was interested in a further defensive addition, and though he insisted that he will not recruit for the sake of it, Ross admitted that he will keep an eye on potential opportunities to improve his squad.
“All areas of the pitch are the same for us,” he said.
“We’ve got a relatively good balance in the squad and good options, but if something were to come up that we believed would improve us, we woudl give that serious consideration.
“If that means we then have to trim the squad the other side of it, it’s important to point out that’s not one in, one out for financial reasons, that’s about balance and the numbers in your squad.
“It would only be worthwhile doing that if makes you better, there’s no point in doing it like-for-like because then you’re just turning over players for the sake of it.”
His left-back problem was at least aided by a good performance from Conor McLaughlin against the lively Marcus Harness, and it was also a boost to see Denver Hume back on the pitch and looking comfortable.
“When they brought Ross McCrorie on, he gave them that athleticism and forward movement. Aiden was tiring and Chris [Maguire] was tiring when he filled in there, but dor Denver it showed that we have that trust in him.
“We spoke today about that, that he got on the pitch and helped us see the game out. He’ll have those dips and it’s how he deals with it, and I think he’ll be pleased that he was back on the pitch so quickly.”