Why Jack Ross deserves huge praise for role in reviving Sunderland as Black Cats eye league and cup success
In a cramped shoebox of a media room, with a dozen journalists from print, radio and TV hanging on his every word, Jack Ross faced the press after sealing a cup final date at Wembley.
There were no cliches trotted out, no soundbites, just a balanced, reasoned appraisal of Sunderland’s performance and the achievement of reaching the Checkatrade Trophy final.
Cool, calm, considered.
The Scot always keeps his emotions in check, agitation crept in slightly during the recent run of draws but generally speaking, he is a very considered character post-match.
Never too high, never too low.
For any manager to come into a new league, in a different country, to rebuild an entire squad, to help breathe fresh hope into a community and City, to lead by example through words and actions, to reach a cup final and be well placed in the automatic promotion hunt, is a huge achievement.
It is easy to forget just how low Sunderland AFC was before Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven, Ross & Co arrived on Wearside.
But Ross knows nothing has been achieved yet. Though that said, the Black Cats are on the cusp of a superb and memorably season.
It is remarkable how much has changed in the space of eight months; new owners, new manager, new players, new staff, new seats.
The list goes on.
The buzz is back on Wearside and Ross is a key factor in that.
The former defender has led by example from the off, stating in his first press conference that automatic promotion was the target.
Clear, confident and speaking with purpose.
The former St Mirren boss has always struck that balance well; measured composure, getting on with business quietly, efficiently and without fuss.
And in many ways the Sunderland squad reflects their manager.
They - plus Ross and his coaching staff - deserve great credit for their record this season; just two league defeats, unbeaten in League One at the Stadium of Light, the team also having scored in every league game this season home and away.
The ultimate prize is within touching distance.
Twelve games in which to seal automatic promotion.
And a cup final against Portsmouth with the chance to win some silverware along the way.
Ross wants to win the league title. He has never shied away from that. Luton Town’s blistering form means that looks unlikely as things stand.
But don’t bet against Ross. Don’t bet against this team.
Momentum is building nicely and just at the right time.
A settled, fit and healthy team, settled system and way of playing plus the key January signings adding real quality to the squad, Sunderland are clicking into gear.
Focus is a key part of Ross’ management technique, the same messages consistently drummed into the players.
They are performing to his beat. High praise from him for their efforts so far, but an appreciation that the job is only half done.
Winning promotion the absolute priority. Winning a cup along the way an added bonus.
At the final whistle, with the wind howling and the rain tipping down, the players and staff applauded and cheered with the travelling 1,800-strong Sunderland fans.
Another show of their loyalty and commitment to the cause. Twice in ten days the fans have backed their team in big numbers at Bristol.
Player celebrations were not over the top.
Reflecting on the dressing room mood post-match, 42-year-old Ross said tellingly: “The mood was good, they maybe take their lead from me and are very balanced!
“They are satisfied, they will know deep down it is a good thing to look forward to.
"They want to win it and will only view themselves as successful if they win it.”
Ross was waiting patiently outside in the tight corridor while Bristol Rovers boss Graham Coughlan completed his media duties, the Sunderland team later making the long journey back North on the coach.
Coughlan told the press: “We don’t come up against opposition like that very often. I thought they were cool, they were calm and collected in possession.
“They are a quality outfit, they have got quality players, they are playing in a different ball park to us.
“Fingers crossed hopefully they learn from that and 12-18 months we will be in a similar position as Sunderland are.”
Next up it was the turn of Ross, addressing the media in the tight room, deep within the bowels of the main stand at the Memorial Stadium.
“My focus is always on the job in hand, getting the club out of the league, but I will take enormous amount of pride in this,” he said.
Pride but focus on the job in hand.
And that continues with extending the three-game winning run in League One away at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.