Jack Ross gives in-depth view on his Portsmouth tactics, what happened in the second half and why Sunderland are ready to bounce back

Jack Ross. Picture by FRANK REID
Jack Ross. Picture by FRANK REID
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Wednesday night sees Sunderland get back to reality but the memory of the Wembley weekend still lingers.

The good, predominantly.

The camaraderie, the Trafalgar takeover, the incredible noise in the national stadium and that late equaliser.

The very obvious tuth that this is a resilient side capable of playing good football and that continues to compete well.

Still lingering for some, though, will be the frustration that Sunderland could not build on a superb first half performance.

After dominating the game control was ceded to Portsmouth who eventually capitalised.

The frustration centred mainly around the decision to replace the flagging Will Grigg with Max Power, moving Lynden Gooch up front.

And a perception that Sunderland ‘sat back’ on their lead.

After a couple of days to reflect and having watched the game back, Ross admitted that it was in some ways a reflection fo their season. Some good football, and some moments where resilience was needed.

He said moving forward the key for his team was ‘to trust themselves’ during this moments and explained the rationale behind his tactical approach to the game.

“The first half performance was so good, and we had so much control of game, I think what we probably didn’t do well was deal with the part of the game where the momentum swung,” Ross said.

“I thought we tried as much as we could to lengthen the game, rather than close it, because they were committing themselves higher and higher up the pitch.

“Will obviously we knew would only last so long and Lynden playing through the middle was about trying to stretch the game for us.

“We couldn’t really get up the pitch or get beyond.

“We just couldn’t get hold of the ball, which was a problem for us in that period.

“Thereafter I think the game balanced out a wee bit but when they make the changes, the way they play from that point, it’s not always easy to deal with, the physicality of their strikers coming on,” he added.

“Dealing with that better [going forward], I think it’s trusting what we do well. Undoubtedly, we did things really well in the first half that we didn’t in the second.

“The composure probably went away from us in the second half. “

Ross certainly would have liked to have had either Duncan Watmore or Chris Maguire to call upon from the bench, admitting his side were ‘caught between’ to ways out of the press.

“Portsmouth certainly pressed us higher up the pitch, they changed in that respect,” he said.

“You then have to, you either play through that press or have that ability where you lengthen the game and it stops them then pressing you high.

“We probably got caught in between.

“I think the players trust themselves [to play through] and it’s not like we had a really good option to play in behind anyway.

“None of our strikers really do it so that was why Lynden ended up there.

“In the end we were caught in between.

“What I would say is this in analysis of games, for the players involved on both teams, a lot happens that is just completely caught up in the game, it’s not easy to retain that clarity of thought all the time.”

It was a game that again underlined how little there was between the two sides, and arguably the two above them in the League One table.

Ross will be desperate to draw on that first half as Sunderland return to league action.

The setting on Wednesday night, of course, could not be more different.

A return to the Wham Stadium, where their previous attempt to fulfil a league fixture was abandoned amid horrendous storms.

The pitch has seemingly never fully recovered from that afternoon.

Chairman Andy Holt has admitted on social media that it is not in great shape, and Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton was withering in his assessment after his side narrowly won 1-0 at the weekend.

To make matters worse, rain is forecast for Wednesday.

Ross is aware of the challenge ahead and is likely to freshen up his side.

“I watched the Accrington game at Fleetwood and it looks as if the surface probably hasn’t really recovered from that day we played there,” he said.

“That’s not a criticism, I think we knew that after the game.

“We will have to adjust in terms of how we play, that’s very obvious.

“We’ll have to adjust our selection anyway in terms of the knocks but also in terms of finding the way to win the game, it will be a tricky surface.”

After the exhaustion of Wembley, both physically and emotionally, this game is not an easy prospect but one thing Ross is certain of if is the determination of his players to bounce back.

The Black Cats stayed together in London on Sunday night after the final, a process Ross thinks ultimately did them good.

“It was done to ensure the best preparation for Wednesday and the way it panned out, it allowed the players to spend some time with family,” he said.

“I think that was a good thing because by the time I saw them again properly on the Monday, they were good.

“They’ve been really good as a group. They were sore after the game, and it’ll still be stinging.

“But I’ve been really encouraged by their response and their refocusing on this prize that they want to try and get, they’re determined to do it.

“I’ve not had to drag them off the floor, they’ve done that themselves and I think they’re looking forward to getting back on the pitch.”