Jack Ross is proving he has what it takes to lead Sunderland to promotion and leave Sam Allardyce watching on
Pressure and scrutiny at Sunderland AFC is intense.
It goes with the job of trying to get the club back up the league pyramid after a disastrous few years led to relegation to League One.
Jack Ross is familiar with the pressure now having been in the job for 15-months.
The disappointing 3-0 defeat to Peterborough United left a bad taste during the international fortnight but the Black Cat bounced back well at Accrington Stanley, clinical finishes helping seal a 3-1 win.
Within hours of the victory, a win which put Sunderland fifth and just two points off top spot with a game in hand, a report emerged of Sam Allardyce’s apparent interest in a Sunderland return one day.
It’s never dull, is it?
With the takeover involving the American businessmen close, Big Sam - who left Wearside after just nine months to take the England job in 2016 - is said to want a return to management and would be open to another crack at Sunderland if an opportunity arose in the future.
He may have to wait a while.
Just last week Ross, whose position is not under threat, revealed he had already enjoyed initial dialogue with Sunderland’s potential new owners.
Ross has his critics but he is proving that he can lead the club to promotion this season.
Ross, speaking before the 3-1 win at Accrington Stanley, said: “I have met and spoken to people who may potentially be involved in the ownership of the club
“I wouldn’t say too much about the extent and content of the conversation because nothing has been concluded as of yet, but I have had dialogue with people that might be involved.
“There’s maybe a misconception out there that a takeover means all of a sudden you spend loads and loads of money.
“The conversations I’ve had have been about how, in my opinion, you might build a sustainable football club.
“That’s from the elements that I’m involved in, the ones that I control and the ones that I branch into.
“I think that might be the way forward for us, that medium to long-term growth and how you sustain it, while obviously achieving short-term success in terms of results.
“I’ve enjoyed the dialogue I’ve had that might be involved, I’ve enjoyed it but it’s not really gone any further than that.”
Sunderland had a stuttery start with two draws in the opening week, bringing pressure and criticism given the wider context of the number of draws last season, draws that scuppered automatic promotion hopes.
But the Black Cats then strung together a five-game winning run in league and cup.
Defeat at Peterborough hit the squad hard, the performance fell way below the standards expected.
Yet Sunderland bounced back strongly at the Wham Stadium in front of 2,000 travelling supporters.
As Ross pointed out, everytime this group of players has been asked questions, they have responded. It shows strong will and strength of character.
Sunderland fell behind after just five minutes after a rusty start but they were level within two minutes and by half-time the game was done and dusted. They have matchwinners.
The second half a professional display with Stanley posing little threat.
Could and should Sunderland have scored more goals? Yes. Is the lack of clean sheets and goals conceded this season a concern? Yes.
But Sunderland are well placed in League One following a promising start to the campaign, four wins and two draws from seven, just a couple of points off the top with a game in hand.
The constant pressure and scrutiny - and others wanting their job - is something managers have to put up with and Ross is no different.
Yet the Scot is proving he has what it takes to lead Sunderland to promotion this season and while the squad has lost experience, Ross & Co have added quality.
George Dobson and Jordan Willis look excellent signings, Marc McNulty has added a spark and goals up front.
Conor McLaughlin has been forced to play several positions and we are yet to see the best of him, while we are yet to see Joel Lynch and Laurens De Bock.
But overall the squad is well balanced, with added pace and athleticism and well placed to maintain and achieve a promotion push.
Ross, with a years experience and knowledge of this division, will be a better manager for his debut season in League One and he has shown he is willing to adapt, quickly ditching the wing-back system which wasn’t working.
Sunderland, given the size of the club in League One, will only ever be one defeat from questions being asked.
That’s the pressure Ross and the squad has to deal with and the signs are positive so far this season that they can do that and win promotion.
Big Sam may well fancy a return to Sunderland, who wouldn’t given the size of the club, the potential, the fanbase and the facilities - but he’ll be waiting a while yet.
The pressure on Ross is immense and it will be all season but he’s proving he has what it takes to help get the club back into the Championship.