The Jack Ross change that could make a big difference to Sunderland on home turf this season

SAFC training at Stadium of Light 02-08-2018.  Picture by FRANK REID
SAFC training at Stadium of Light 02-08-2018. Picture by FRANK REID
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Early on, at least, the decision to put Sunderland’s pitch back to its usual dimensions looked like it might be a case of overconfidence.

Last season, Simon Grayson had narrowed and shortened the Stadium of Light turf, perhaps noticing early on his tenure that his team might not have the legs to live with the kind of Championship teams he was used to overseeing.

Jack Ross has reversed that call, underlining his commitment to producing a Sunderland side that plays attacking football and looks to dominate games.

Still, it would be a mistake to interpret the decision purely as another indication of the manager’s footballing philosophy.

Ross has been careful not to commit himself to any brand of football since arrive on Wearside.

He certainly favours a passing style and will instruct his players to play that way whenever possible, but there is an element of pragmatism to his management underlined by his decision to make the opposite call in his first job at Alloa.

This call, while one of the smaller ones in the bigger picture, is revealing in what it tells us about how see games developing at the Stadium of Light this season.

There is a risk to his decision, seen clearly in the opening stages of the win over Charlton Athletic.

Glenn Loovens and Alim Ozturk were perhaps short on match fitness and were very much still developing an understanding as a partnership.

With the Black Cats trying to play a high defensive line, there was space on the counter for Charlton to operate in.

Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant exploited it superbly and the uncertainty in the Sunderland ranks was palpable.

Only when the added pace of Adam Matthews was moved into the middle of the pitch did they seem to get to grips with the challenge.

To that end, Ross will have been greatly encouraged by the debut of Jack Baldwin at Kenilworth Road.

Baldwin showed a decent turn of pace and good decision making, some smart tactical fouls that stopped Luton just as they looked to overload the visitors on the break.

That will help on home turf, too.

The second half against Charlton showed the benefits of extra space as the Black Cats took control, dominating both the ball and the territory.

Eventually that toll showed as Lynden Gooch headed in at the back post with just seconds to play.

Charlton’s threadbare squad drastically limited their ability to stem the tide in the closing stages, with Jerome Sinclair and then Luke Molyneux both making an impact from the Sunderland bench.

Charlton, of course, are expected to push for the play-offs this season and so it is worth considering that many other sides who travel north will sit even deeper and from a much earlier stage of the game.

That extra space could make all of the difference, particuarly in the closing stages when, providing Ross lands another reinforcement, he will be able to bring talented and fresh attacking players off the bench.

Late goals, particularly at home, are generally a staple of any promotion campaign and it is no coincidence.

A combination of the intense atmosphere created by a successful team on the front foot, and the extra freshness they have from bigger squads and controlling games, can force the opposition to wilt late on.

Sunderland will hope that Charlton are merely the first of many this season. It could prove to be a small change that makes a big difference.