Why Jack Ross will be keeping a close eye on Duncan Watmore's pre-season Sunderland performances
Jack Ross has been clear that he wants to add pace and strength to his squad wherever possible this season.
In defence, he has made a very good step in that direction, signing proven League One talent without spending a fee.
On Thursday night travelling supporters are likely to get their first glimpse of centre-back Jordan Willis, as well as another look at full-back Conor McLaughlin.
In midfield, Ross is keen on adding George Dobson while he will also hope that Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton add more energy in the middle of the park.
Further change in both of those departments could yet be on the cards this summer but a little further forward, Ross will hope that a player already in his squad can make a major difference.
At South Shields Duncan Watmore made a hugely encouraging cameo. The forward made his manager’s system more fluid and more dynamic by covering an extraordinary amount of ground, pressing the oppositon and linking up with his fellow forwards.
Ross has spoken already about improving the frequency of his players getting in the box this year and Watmore is an obvious candidate to help that cause.
The Black Cats boss has worked him hard so far in pre-season, and believes he is starting to reap the rewards.
“I have kept pushing and pushing for him to break barriers and he has bought into that,” Ross said last week.
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“He has not missed a session in pre-season and that is good.
“He looks like he is stronger and fitter than he did when he came back last season and that is a big plus for us."
As early as September last year, Ross was talking of his desire to get Watmore back fit and jokingly, to then ‘clone him’.
The point then was at is now; Sunderland simply do not have enough players who stretch the game and prevent them being penned in defensively.
It’s a conundrum in the transfer market.
Without him, Sunderland’s forward line is short of pace and numbers, and after his wretched recent luck no one will want to apply too much pressure on the 25-year-old.
But Ross also knows he can solve many problems.