Sunderland produced the perfect response to the heartbreaking Checkatrade Trophy final defeat to Portsmouth with a superb 3-0 win away at Accrington Stanley.
Here’s what we learned from the victory at the Wham Stadium.
Barnsley should be very worried.
The Black Cats closed the gap to Barnsley to just three points heading into the final eight games and Sunderland still have two games in hand on their promotion rivals.
Luton Town continue to dominate and look to seal automatic promotion to the Championship but the race for the other spot is fierce.
And Sunderland made a big statement at the Wham Stadium. Five changes to the side yet still three goals and one clean sheet. A superb away display. And it could have been far more comfortable too.
Ross deserves credit for his changes.
The Sunderland boss was criticised following the penalty shoot-out defeat to Portsmouth for his substitutions but he got his team selection and tactics spot on at Accrington.
Five changes in total, three enforced with Lee Cattermole and Reece James injured and George Honeyman serving the final game of his three-match suspension.
In came Charlie Wyke, Dylan McGeouch, Denver Hume, Max Power and Lynden Gooch and all of them had an impact.
The switch to 4-4-2 and clear tactic of moving the ball forward quickly to avoid as much as possible the dire pitch worked well, none more so than when Will Grigg latched on to Jon McLaughlin’s upfield pass to score.
Goal difference could prove key this year.
With four teams battling for automatic promotion, the race to go up could go down to the wire.
And goal difference could prove key.
Sunderland boosted theirs by three goals at Accrington. Luton’s is 46, Barnsley’s 37, Sunderland’s 33 and Portsmouth 27.
Will Grigg has now netted in successive league games.
It may not feel like it given the length of time between the Walsall win and the victory over Accrington but Grigg has now scored in back-to-back league games.
His ankle injury continues to cause concern and Sunderland’s coaching team is having to nurse him through the training and game schedule.
But he is scoring goals.
Accrington’s awful pitch was not the best surface for a dodgy ankle but Grigg showed no ill-effects and scored a brilliant second to kill the game.
Ross has a selection dilemma for Rochdale away.
Dylan McGeouch excelled in central midfield, controlling the play with his clever passes and execution.
Grant Leadbitter was rested, he came on as a late sub, while Lee Cattermole was missing with an ankle injury and he is a doubt for the trip to Rochdale.
Max Power played alongside McGeouch and did well and Ross now has a dilemma as to who to drop to bring Leadbitter back in, which he surely will given his set piece delivery and class at this level.
One to ponder over the next 48-hours.
Goal will do Kaz Sterling the world of good.
The Spurs loanee came on for the final 20 minutes last night and scored the third goal, wrapping up the win.
His well-taken finish sparked wild celebrations in the open-terrace behind the goal, his first since arriving on loan.
Sterling has still only played less than an hour since arriving on loan in January, 55 minutes in total, but the goal will give his confidence a big boost.
With eight games still to play in a packed month, Sterling’s impact from the bench could prove key in the automatic promotion battle.