Why we should ignore what Joey Barton says about Jack Ross and Sunderland – promotion would be a serious achievement

Joey Barton.
Joey Barton.
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Jack Ross has long made his peace with the fact that he and his Sunderland squad will not receive much praise, no matter what they achieve this season.

If you’re Sunderland in League One, you should run away with it.

You have some players on big wages, and so that should be that.

Of course, it would have been a bitter disappointment had the Black Cats not challenged this season and it is true, too, that they have not always been scintillating.

Though they have played some good football, their success this season has been built primarily on an extraordinary resilience, their record in winning points from losing positions second to none.

Still, it was interesting to note that Daniel Stendel was voted by his fellow bosses as the League One manager of the season.

It was a vote skewed, of course, by Nathan Jones’ mid-season departure. It was an award he would have had wrapped up in a landslide had he not left for Stoke City. Mick Harford has done exceptionally well to resist the urge to tinker with that template but neither could realistically be considered candidates.

That Stendel won probably says something about the discomfort opposition managers have felt when facing his Barnsley side. Without doubt, they are powerful, aggressive and a very good side.

There is a fair debate that these awards should not be dished out until the season finishes anyway, but even just up to this point, it is curious that the perception of Barnsley’s season seems to be that is a far bigger achievement to be in the top three than it is for Sunderland.

It is true to the extent that their budget and their fanbase is far smaller than Sunderland’s.

It is probably true, too, that the awards were voted on when Barnsley looked the favourites to go up.

Ross deserves far more credit than he has had for his work with this squad all the same.

It is one thing having talented players, and quite another to get them to produce in the third tier. To build such an impressive resilience, spirit and unity from a group where there are massive disparities in pay, experience and background.

To carve out results over and over again when beginning pre-season without enough senior players to complete a starting XI.

To push for promotion despite spending the vast majority of the first half of the campaign without a senior striker.

Stendel has created a very good side but look back to the first game of their pre-season and the vast majority of their squad was already in place.

It’s a squad that has more than enough ability to push for honours, even if it is young and on the inexperienced side.

Stendel has cleared plenty of hurdles along the way, January sales and serious injuries, but the same applies to Ross and the likes of Kenny Jackett.

The point is not that Ross should have won, or that Stendel is an undeserving winner.

You could make strong arguments that the work of Lee Bowyer at a club in crisis is the most impressive. Or the feats of Gareth Ainsworth and John Coleman in keeping their sides out of the bottom four for most of the campaign on tiny, tiny budgets.

The point is that reductive claims about the size of Sunderland’s budget should not cloud a true judgement of this team and the manager.

Not perfect, but mightily impressive.

All of which, inevitably, brings us to Joey Barton.

Barton has recently claimed that if he had Sunderland’s budget, he would already have won promotion to the Championship.

That is based, apparently, on his work in a debut season at Fleetwood Town, where has landed the side in 11th position with six games to play.

The fact that this is also Ross’ debut season in League One is apparently lost on Barton.

After the 1-1 draw with Sunderland earlier in the season, Barton said he thought the meeting between the two sides later in the season could be a six-pointer.

It certainly will be for Sunderland, though Fleetwood currently find themselves 24 points behind the Black Cats.

The line between confidence and hubris is a fine one.

If Sunderland get over the line, it will be a serious achievement and budget will only be one part of the story.

Barton knows that, and will privately rue the fact that Doncaster Rovers, backed by many to be relegated this season, have soared above his side as a result of clever management and collective endeavour.