Touchline debates, attacking instincts & careful planning: Inside the subs powering Sunderland’s promotion push

SAFC 3-0 SUFC 27-10-2018 EFL League1 Stadium of Light Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
SAFC 3-0 SUFC 27-10-2018 EFL League1 Stadium of Light Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID
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Jack Ross set his stall out on the opening day of the campaign and it endeared him to the Sunderland support right from the off.

His starting XI was struggling against Charlton Athletic and so the changes were swift, ruthless and decisive.

Ross is benefiting from a deeper squad than most of his predecessors in the job but he is also displaying attacking and pro-active instincts game after game.

Indeed, it is hard to remember a substitution where the clear aim was to shut up shop.

Bringing on Alim Ozturk, with his team a man down and missing one of their most physical players in an aerial siege of their box at Bradford City, is perhaps the exception that proves the rule.

Even when Luke O’Nien has been introduced in recent weeks, it has been to press high and look for opportunities to kill the game on the counter.

Those instincts were never better demonstrated than against Southend United, when taking a 2-0 lead led Ross to remove his effective holding midfielder and replace him with Aiden McGeady.

McGeady scored once and created countless other openings.

It is a consequence of an attacking philosophy and careful planning.

Ross admits it will occasionally backfire and even his own staff are often left nervous by his calls.

“We were going to do that [bringing McGeady on] at 1-0, Chrissy scored and people thought he was maybe coming off, he wasn’t,” Ross said.

“It is an interesting one because I think Fowls [James Fowler] has given up now. He used to have debates with me about substitutions because he would always go the other way in terms of protecting a lead.

“I enjoy playing in a certain way, I’ve never been that comfortable with trying to sit in or shutting up shop.

“I do need to get better at it because you do need to see games out sometimes but generally I try to be positive.

“In my evolution as a manager, I’ve still not achieved very much but you do learn to back your own judgement.

“Last year in particular I learned to get better at that, working on the premise that I’m going to get it wrong sometimes. I would rather do it and get it wrong than hum and haw about it.

“People will have their own thoughts on that and I’m going to get it wrong at times.

“Ultimately it will come back to me but it will anyway, if I don’t do it and we don’t get the result.

“I’d rather be bold and I’ve always worked on a plan anyway, quite often at half-time I already have what I’d like to do in place.

“I quite enjoy that side of it.

“So for example, Saturday, we’re at home and you know the pitch is big,” he added.

“Aiden didn’t start but I always knew that in all likelihood when he comes the game would be stretched, players would be fatigued. I don’t want Aiden to be a supersub, far from it, it could be someone else but what it shows is that we have players who can come on and have an impact.

“As a former full-back, I’m thinking, Lynden comes off, ‘Aye, great. I’ve done well for an hour facing one of the most direct players in the league and now I’ve got Aiden McGeady running at me’.

“These are things I’m lucky to have but it’s about making sure I’m using them correctly as well.”

Ross’s options are only increasing with Josh Maja fit again and looking back to his sharpest against Southend.

The improving form of George Honeyman and Luke O’Nien only underlines his strength in depth.

If the game is in the balance at Home Park on Saturday afternoon, expect Ross to go for broke.