Marc McNulty reveals the dressing room verdict on Sunderland's tactics as Jack Ross shows his versatility
Marc McNulty has defended Sunderland’s tactical changes - insisting it is down to the players to perform in whatever shape Jack Ross dictates.
The Black Cats began the campaign in a new-look 3-4-3 shape, having enjoyed some success with it in pre-season.
But after back-to-back draws, Ross made the bold call to opt for a 4-4-2 during the Carabao Cup triumph at Accrington - with some fans having been critical of the three at the back approach.
McNulty, though, believes the dressing room should be strong enough to adapt to whatever shape the Scot sends his side out in and insists the onus is on the players to deliver, rather than the manager.
“Systems can make a difference but at the end of the day it's down to the players on the pitch,” he admitted.
“The manager can do all the tactics and formation work he wants but if we as players don't perform then it's down to us, it's not down to the manager.
“Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't, but we just need to make sure that when we cross that line we take on board everything the manager says and perform."
McNulty partnered Will Grigg at the Wham Stadium, having led the line on his own at Portman Road during the draw with Ipswich.
And while happy to operate in that lone striker role, McNulty feels he is most effective when playing as part of a pair - which was demonstrated to great effect during the cup clash.
"When I came here I had a chat with the gaffer and he could see me playing a number of positions - as a one, as a two, sometimes in behind,” he added.
“For me personally, I just like playing with people in behind me. I think to get the best out of me I need players close to me.
“So it's obviously up to the manager then how he wants to set-up, and it's not just getting the best out of me - it's for the team. Sometimes you need to fit into the team to get the best out of others.
“Obviously that's why the manager's job is so hard, but we just need to go out and perform.”
Already Sunderland fans have seen glimpses of McNulty’s versatility - with the forward having played in a variety of attacking roles in the opening three games.
And he expects further changes will come in the forward areas as the season progresses.
“I think that's why the gaffer brought me in, to play a few positions.
“He knew I'd be flexible and it's great.
“The other strikers can mix it up as well so it's great to have some options between the forward players and over the course of the season I'm sure the gaffer will mix things up.”
The win in the North West lifted the mood around the Stadium of Light, which had been rather more sombre following a winless start to the league campaign.
But there is no such negativity in the dressing room, with McNulty revealing the mood remains positive after an unbeaten start to the campaign.
"The mood has been fine,” said the striker.
“It would be easy for the boys to be negative and be doom and gloom, but we're two games into the season and we haven't lost yet.
“Some people might look at that and think it's a good start, other people might think it's the end of the world and maybe I shouldn't be playing again!
“Fans look at it different ways and players look at it different ways. As a group in there, the boys are confident because we haven't been beaten yet.
“Yes, we're frustrated because we haven't taken three points and that the performances haven't been great.
“But it's early in the season, we're unbeaten, we won tonight and we've got another game on Saturday.
“I've said it before, you can't get too high with the highs and two low with the lows,” he continued.
“You need to sort of stay on level pegging throughout the season.
“There's times when the fans are going to be on your back and they're going to think you're the worst thing in the world - but you can't let that affect you.“You have to remain focused.”
Having netted a hat-trick in a pre-season bounce game against Hartlepool, McNulty got off the mark in competitive action against Accrington as he rounded-off a well-worked team move.
It could have been more, too, with the striker unfortunate to see a powerful drive come back off the underside of the bar.
But will that early strike help moving forward?
“I'd be lying if I said no.
“You always want to get your goal early. It's great to get off the mark tonight and now it's just a case of focusing on Saturday and trying to get a little run going.
“To be honest I've not really had that many sniffs of goal.
“It's been a frustrating couple of games. But it's one of them, it's sometimes the way football goes.
“You just stay positive and be ready for an opportunity like that. It was a well-worked goal and it was good to get off the mark."