Following Sunderland’s loss to Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy on Sunday, a vocal minority of fans took to social media to criticise Jack Ross’ tactics – some thought the Scotsman was too rigid, too stubborn, too uncompromising and unwilling to budge from his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation.
The decision to send Max Power on for the exhausted Will Grigg and push Lynden Gooch into a false No 9 position was, for many, the architect of Sunderland’s eventual downfall – despite the manager’s best efforts to explain away his rather ineffectual substitution.
However, any criticism levelled at Ross pre-last night’s demolition Accrington Stanley has died down, as you’d expect.
The Scotsman proved he isn’t stubborn and is very much open to tweaking his tactical setup when his side requires.
Sunderland went full Mike Bassett on Wednesday night. 4-4-2 with Charlie Wyke partnering Grigg up front.
And Wyke, who signed for big money from Bradford in the summer, finally shone. The 26-year-old Middlesbrough-born powerhouse was instrumental in the win; linking the play and proving a handful for Accrington’s defence.
A virtuoso display well worth the acclaim he received from the travelling support.
The only thing missing from Wyke’s game last night was a goal, but what better time to have the former Hartlepool loanee playing with confidence?
Forgotten midfielder Dylan McGeouch hadn’t started a League One game since Luton Town’s visit to the Stadium of Light in January, but the former Celtic man controlled the game and proved himself a worthy option when stalwarts Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter are jaded and in need of a rest.
Some would contest that the 26-year-old should keep his place for the trip to Rochdale as he offers added creativity – it’s a persuasive and strong argument.
Sunderland sit on the cusp of the automatic promotion places, three points behind second place Barnsley with two games in hands on the Tykes. Promotion is in their hands once again.
A firing Wyke and an in-form McGeouch could prove essential pieces of Ross’ jigsaw in the Black Cats’ final eight games.
And Sunderland fans should take heart in their manager’s ability to cajole his side after such a high profile and emotion-sapping defeat on penalties at Wembley.
To turn his squad around for an emphatic victory three days later is monumentally impressive and testament to the strength of character amongst his players.
Recovering both physically and mentally to perform well in a huge fixture is no mean feat and will provide a massive boost of confidence and a good jolt of momentum for the final run-in.