Sunderland’s season was at a crucial juncture – and so too was Jack Baldwin.
The centre back, a virtual ever-present since his summer switch from Peterborough, was enjoying one of the more difficult spells of his maiden season on Wearside as the calendars flipped forward into 2019.
While he and Tom Flanagan had built-up a strong partnership at centre back, individual errors had started to creep in.
And after Baldwin conceded what turned out to be a crucial penalty during the 1-1 draw with Luton Town, decisions had to be made.
Baldwin was dropped, new signing Jimmy Dunne taking his place in the side as the Black Cats looked to sustain their promotion push
At the time the decision looked justified, but now it appears to be even more so; a stroke of genius from Jack Ross that has breathed new life into Baldwin.
Indeed, the 25-year-old admitted he was ‘thankful’ for being dropped – and has praised Ross’ man-management skills during his time out the side.
“I spoke with the manager at the time and he felt it was the right decision,” he said.
“I completely back his decision.
“Looking back it probably was the right decision. I’d come off a couple of individual errors in consecutive games and it was good to step back and have a breather.
“As players you want to be playing every game but there are times when the manager feels you need to step out and have a breather and it worked brilliantly for me.
“It was great from the manager that he pulled me and explained it and whatever his decision we’ve all got to accept it, but I feel better for it now as we go into the final games.
“I was thankful for it.”
Having now regained his place in the side, Baldwin is keen to help deliver an instant return to the Championship for the Black Cats – with this afternoon’s visit of Coventry City offering an ideal chance for Sunderland to stamp their authority on the race for second.
And the centre back has called on supporters to help the Wearsiders over the line – believing that their patience can help in securing the main priority of promotion.
“We’re disappointed for everyone involved in the club that we couldn’t win at Wembley but I think the biggest aim for everyone this year was to get out of this league so that’s been our focus since the start,” admitted Baldwin.
“The cup was a bonus, getting to the final, and now our full focus is on the league.
“The fans play a massive part in that because whenever they’re up and feeling good, we feel good.
“When the crowd’s tense, that might seep into the lads on the pitch as well so it’s a fine balance.
“We’ve been football fans ourselves and we know how frustrating it is to watch a football game when things aren’t going your way but personally I’d ask for the fans’ patience and for them to really get with us for the last six games because they can play such a big part in where we want to get to.”