Jack Ross reflects on Sunderland defender's remarkable revival ahead of key role in play-off campaign

Alim Ozturk could now be a key figure for Sunderland in the play-offs
Alim Ozturk could now be a key figure for Sunderland in the play-offs
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After finally fighting his way back into the side, Alim Ozturk had vowed to show Sunderland who he really was.

There had been patches of promise at various stages throughout the season.

Important cameos off the bench at AFC Wimbledon and Bradford City, some commanding displays in the Checkatrade Trophy.

But Ozturk was battling against a hugely uncertain start, the Turk himself admitting he was badly struggling for fitness.

At one stage, it would not have been unfair to question whether we would see the 25-year-old again this season.

Now, he looks almost certain to be a regular in the play-off campaign.

After returning against Doncaster Rovers, he has gradually improved and though results have been disappointing, team performances have at times been encouraging.

There have been some soft goals conceded, a huge frustration for Jack Ross, but generally he feels his side have more control than they did during that troublesome week at home when Burton Albion and Coventry City carved out regular openings.

That is, Ross believes, in part down to Ozturk.

“I’ve said previously about how much credit he deserved individually for that,” Ross said.

“He trained really well absolutely all of the time when he was out of the team. He made that decision and it would have been easy for him not to do that.

“He’s kept himself right in that respect.

“We’ve always spoken, where he was at, what he needed to do when that opportunity might come.

“I’m just pleased because he is a good player,” he added.

“I knew that, that’s why I brought him here.

“He’s good on the ball, he’s got strength as a defender.

“I’m a bit frustrated for him personally that we’ve only one won game in that time [since he returned] because defensively, post-Coventry, Jon has had fewer “saves to make and that is testament to how we’ve defended, in the main.”

Crucially, the 26-year-old is showing more with each game.

In that Doncaster Rovers win it was noticeable that Ozturk was keeping it very simple on the ball.

Gradually he is starting to be more calculated and contribute more to the build-up play.

The excellence of Sunderland’s play in the first half at Fleetwood, and the subsequent struggles after the break, underlined how important that could be in the coming weeks.

“I think he knew coming into that Doncaster game how challenging it would be, given that he hadn’t played for a while,” Ross said.

“Also, they’re good in forward areas and we had just conceded five.

“We did a lot that week on defending, just being a defender.

“It was important for us to do that and then of course, after that, he defends but he also gets the opportunity to show what he can do on the ball as well.

“He’s good in that respect and even when he makes clearance, he gets really good distance and that helps us as well.”