Jack Ross reveals the out-of-favour Sunderland man who could be key to a promotion push
Jack Ross has backed Sunderland defender Jack Baldwin to play a key role as the side push for promotion.
The former Hartlepool United centre back, who joined the Black Cats from Peterborough in the summer, had found first-team opportunities limited in recent weeks with Tom Flanagan and loanee Jimmy Dunne establishing themselves as the club's first-choice defensive pairing.
But with Flanagan sidelined through concussion, Baldwin was handed a chance at Barnsley - and seized it with both hands.
It was a showing which convinced Ross that Baldwin could be a 'big plus' to Sunderland's promotion push in the coming weeks, even if he is more of a risk-taker than his counterparts.
"I've never been critical of him for that," said Ross of the defender's adventurous style of play.
"There's been one or two defensive decisions, that's a different aspect.
"I'll accept him giving the ball away sometimes because I'd rather he did that [try and create chances].
"Hopefully he knows that and it'll be a big plus if he can stay in that form for the rest of the season."
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Baldwin remains one of Sunderland's most regular appearance-makers this season, having racked up 2700 minutes of League One football alone.
And Ross remains confident in his ability, despite a drop in form which the Scot puts down to mental and physical fatigue.
"I was really pleased for him individually to begin with, because the contribution he has made this season has been good, I've always said that," he admitted.
"I think he had a difficult patch and there was no knee-jerk reaction to what we did, we stuck by him and we just felt it was the right time to take him out, to take a breather physically and mentally.
"Hopefully we saw the benefits of that on Tuesday night because he was really good, on a night that was really tough for all the defenders.
"It was a night where you can easily make a mistake, concentration levels have to be high, and I'm delighted because if he's at the levels he was at earlier in the season then it's a boost for me."