Jack Ross has told his Sunderland fringe players that they will get a chance to make a significant contribution this season.
Ross has moved close in recent weeks to settling on an XI and made just one change for the 2-0 win over Bristol Rovers.
After a busy January of incoming business and with the injury list clearing up almost entirely, that has meant a frustrating period for a number of players in the squad.
So Ross organised a behind-closed-doors friendly against a Carlisle United XI this week, fielding a side made up of first team squad members who have struggled for minutes of late.
The side won 3-0 and Ross says he was thrilled with the response.
“They’ve trained well but it is difficult to replicate a game,” Ross said.
“So the physical data was brilliant and was pretty close to what they would do in a league game.
“Psychologically, it was important for them, it was a great day for a game and they were right at it,” he added.
“The players involved were really good. They looked [at it], it was almost as if they were saying, I want to be playing, I should be playing, and when I get the opportunity I’ll be ready to go.
“We’ll need them, because we’ll pick up knocks and we’ll need to rest players.
“They all looked as if they were ready to go.”
Carlisle coach Paul Murray said it was ‘unbelievable’ Sunderland side who dominated the game.
“It was a very strong Sunderland outfit and they probably had 90 per cent of possession in the first half,” he said.
“It was always likely that a lot of our game would be spent out of possession because their line-up was so good.
“Our shape was really good and we kept them quiet for 65 minutes. We probably should have gone ahead before half-time.
“Late in the game we tired but the players had put a real shift in. You can lose your concentration when you are tired and that’s what happened with the goals.
“Generally, though, they stuck to their task well and it was a very good learning curve for our young players playing against some top quality opponents.”
One player who has pushed his way into Ross’ thoughts is Celtic loanee Lewis Morgan.
Morgan has only started once since joining late in the Januay window but sparkled after coming off the bench at the Memorial Stadium.
Ross knows Morgan better than anyone from their time at St Mirren and knows the contribution he can make this season.
“He wants to play all the time,” Ross said.
“He backs himself and he has belief in his abilities.
“He needs to be at those levels all the time. The great thing was he responded in training and then carried it into the Bristol Rovers game.
“He just gives himself a real opportunity then to play in games.
“The Bristol Rovers game did suit him to a degree because it had opened up, but also the flipside of it was that it was not a big pitch.
“The bigger the pitch, the more it will suit him.
“It was really good for him to show the quality he has because he does move incredibly quickly with the ball.
“Because he can go both ways he’s not easy to play against,” he added.
“The players have been impressed by him, they can see he’s a good player who is going to be an asset for us.
“The way we play, we do like to have width in the team so having another natural in those wide areas helps us.
“If I can keep him at the level that I saw partly against Wimbledon [on debut] and then last Saturday, and that I’ve seen first hand last season, he will good in this league.
“There’s no doubt that he’s difficult to play against.”
Another played who featured was Kazaiah Sterling, who has struggled for minutes sicne joining on loan from Spurs.
Ross explained his absence and insisted that he will get his chance so long as he keeps appluing himself in training.
“One, we’ve ended up with quite a lot of players in the forward areas, so the selection has to be done on merit or for a particular reason in terms of the opposition you’re facing,” Ross said.
“But mostly merit will supercede that.
“So it’s then making sure that the work you do every day is at a level that forces you ahead of others, because we’ve got some good players and ones that have contributed over the season.
“The challenge for any player who is out of the side is to do things properly every single day and if you do that, they’ll always firmly be in your thoughts.
“They don’t always get the rewards for that straight away, because as I say often enough, you can only name 16 outfield matchday players.
“But if they continue to do the work properly then they’ll get the opportunity.”