Jack Ross unruffled by transfer impasse as thin squad takes big step forward

'We'll be fine, we'll be alright.'

By The Newsroom
Monday, 23rd July 2018, 12:12 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd July 2018, 12:12 pm

Sunderland boss Jack Ross, of course, had good reason to be feeling positive.

It is rare, after all, for a manager to watch his team win 6-0 and then receive a raucous ovation from all four corners of the ground.

Cole Kpekawa brings down Sunderlands Lynden Gooch for the penalty which the American converted for 2-0.

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So it was for the former St Mirren boss, whose new team, encouragingly, looked rather like his old one on Saturday.

They were patient on the ball, but picked their moments to move quickly through the lines.

They scored some goals of genuine quality, with the club’s academy products adding pace, energy and no little ability.

No one typified that better than Lynden Gooch, an irrepressible force on the right wing.

Two of Ross’s recruits, midfielder Dylan McGeouch and keeper Jon McLaughlin, looked a class apart.

Chris Maguire, a signing who turned few heads when he arrived from Bury, is proving that he has natural talent, welcome versatility and a good work ethic.

St Mirren, it must be said, were surprisingly obliging opponents.

New manager Alan Stubbs will have his own philosophy, but there is a reason he has been chosen as a sucessor to Ross.

There is the same desire to build from the back, but, with a myriad of trialists on show and some key players from last season not replaced, they were badly lacking.

Few teams in League One are likely to offer McGeouch, for example, the same kind of time and space to dictate the tempo of the game as the Buddies did here.

These kind of question marks will remain for the next two weeks.

Can Sunderland’s defence cope with the pace and physicality of the third tier? Will their attackers?

The need for strengthening is obvious.

The forward line is even weaker than it was last season – Sunderland are an injury to Josh Maja away from having no orthodox striking options.

Ross himself has already indiciated that Maja’s best position is playing just off the centre-forward, anyway.

He needs three bodies to bolster his ranks in that position, probably two centre-forwards and one capable of playing either as a No 10 or from the wide areas.

One central midfielder able to add some physicality is needed, as is another centre-back.

Without them, Sunderland will not be ready for the new season and will be depressingly susceptible to injuries undermining their competitiveness.

Much work is to be done and there are fair grounds for concern.

Ross, however, remains as measured and unruffled as he has been all summer.

The Black Cats’ boss said that he could have recruited the bodies necessary by now, but remains determined to get the right characters.

In the ongoing battle to stay inside SCMP (Financial Fair Play) regulations, the sales of Wahbi Khazri and Callum McManaman in the past week have given a lot of room on the wage bill to recruit when those characters become available.

Time is ticking, and Ross was even reluctant to say he would have new faces for the trip to Middlesbrough on Friday.

For all that understandable concern, however, it is worth dwelling on the performances of those on the park at St Mirren.

There have been some average perfomances in pre-season, but the team looks to be improving and, crucially, beginning to play in the way Ross has been keen to instil.

While further additions are an absolute necessity, Ross seems to be getting a tune from those at his disposal and it was mightily encouraging to see McManaman hail both his former manager and the mood in the camp after sealing his Wigan return on Friday.

Ross had dealt impressively with what has so far been a dramatic summer of change.

He is not yet where he wants or needs to be with his squad, but his calm should provide comfort to Sunderland supporters keen to see more business done.

As should his team, who seem to be improving with every game.