Jack Ross on Bali Mumba, Lee Cattermole and Luke O’Nien as midfield competition hots up

Sunderland midfielder Luke O'Nien
Sunderland midfielder Luke O'Nien
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Jack Ross has been working with a threadbare squad since his arrival on Wearside, but in one position he now finds himself well stocked.

Max Power’s arrival gives him a midfielder at a good age, energetic, with an eye for contributing in the final third.

He was perhaps unlucky not to play more at Wigan Athletic, hampered by Paul Cook’s 4-2-3-1 formation that gave prominence to the exceptional Nick Powell.

At Sunderland he will play and competition for midfield places will now be significant.

Dylan McGeouch and Ethan Robson are currently injured but both are set for key roles under Ross, with the former arguably the most important player in his first choice XI.

George Honeyman has the captain’s armband and then there is Bali Mumba.

Mumba has impressed Ross at every stage and will continue to battle for a place, though the Black Cats boss will welcome the chance to manage his workload.

“With Bali we have to manage him through these next few months,” Ross said.

“He’s flown through everything we’ve asked him to do so far but he is very young and there’s a big demand physically.

“There’s a balance with how he copes with a certain period of games, it’d be very naive to think he could play 60 games in a season.

“At the moment he’s on his merit, but undoubtedly he’ll dip a little bit and have challenges. It’s a duty of care thing for me as a manager, I need to look after him.

“I’ll assess it over the next couple of weeks because it’s a busy schedule.”

Competition in the midfield area will be even stronger should Ross use the 3-5-2 system that proved so successful against Charlton Athletic last weekend, one that pushed the talented Chris Maguire infield.

That saw Luke O’Nien taken off but he is another that Ross expects to thrive one he has time to adapt.

The Black Cats boss has no doubts that the 23-year-old can cope with the pressure despite his difficult debut.

“I don’t think that will ever be an issue for him [pressure].

“He’s had to work hard to get to this stage of his career, he puts a lot of onus on the psychological aspect of things.

“I think it was more, it’s a very different style here.

“That’s not a slight on what he was asked to do at Wycombe at all, it’s just different.

“I learned more about that in his first couple of training sessions with us, when he spoke about the role he was asked to do before.

“So there was a lot of information for us to cram in. Then there’s the fact that the team just didn’t play very well in the first half hour.

“The kind of character he is, he was as happy as anyone at the end.

“He’ll be OK.”

With Elliot Embleton also pushing for greater senior recognition, it seems increasingly clear that Sunderland are preparing for a future without Lee Cattermole.

The Black Cats are eager to shed his wages but with Hull City boss Nigel Adkins rejecting any talk of interest in the midfielder, he seems unlikely to move anytime soon.

Despite leaving him out of the matchday squad last week, Ross insists he will be in contention again for the trip to Kenilworth Road.

He said: “He’s trained really well again this week. I think he’s enjoyed working with us and we’ve always said we’d take each week as it comes.

“He comes into consideration again for the weekend, we are stretched. He’s a good player and brings a different dynamic, he’s a different option to what we have in the squad as well.”

For Luton Town and beyond, it will pose some welcome headaches for Ross.