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Press Conference: Jack Ross updates on Josh Maja’s Sunderland contract & January transfer plans

Ahead of Sunderland’s trip to Walsall, Jack Ross met with the press today to talk about the game ahead, the situation with Josh Maja’s contract, how unresolved deals might impact our January plans and more.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

On contract talks with Josh Maja...

I think part of it is what happens in modern football.

When players do well, naturally they become subject to speculation and as always, there’s parts of that speculation that are accurate and large parts that are inaccurate, it just goes with the territory.

I think I said post-match on Saturday that I still believe he will remain at the club beyond his current contract.

There’ll be certain elements out of my control in terms of if there was an offer that came that the club believed was something that they couldn’t turn down, is very different.

Certainly, at the moment, the conversations I’ve had with Josh is that I know he’s happy, I know he enjoys it and I think he believes it’s an environment that he’s improving under.

So, I would still be confident that he’ll remain at the club, but as I said, there are always other factors to consider and things that I can’t control, if you like. Very much working on controlling the controllable and everything else will fall as it’s meant to be.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

On the timescale of Josh’s decision...

No. Again, from my perspective, the relationship I try and build with players, I always try and be fairly balanced in that view and that I don’t just become blinkered from my own position as manager of the club.

That’s important, of course, but equally, I’ve always got to take it from the players perspective. So, there’s always a balance to be had.

At the moment, I’m fairly patient with it because I don’t think it’s affecting his performance level in any way. However, I think Josh is aware of this as well, the sooner these situations are resolved, one way or another, it’s helpful.

But, we’re only in November, we still have time in our favour before any of the parties involved need to make any snap decisions.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

On other players signing new contracts...

I think the discussions, again from my point of view, I’m probably unaware sometimes of how time marches on because my weeks pass by so quickly with the number of games and the preparation for them.

I can sometimes forget that it’s maybe a month ago when we first discussed it, or longer than that. So, I can understand why people might feel like things have dragged on from my view point, but I don’t feel that they have.

Even from the players perspective, it’s probably the same because they’re so busy with games.

There’s been positive dialogue with all of those players and there’s nothing that I’ve had from any of them in the individual conversations I have that would worry me in any sense.

I still remain confident that they want to be part of what we’re doing here. Naturally, as we want to grow as a club and progress back up the leagues, I think those individual players have those ambitions as well, so it’s important that they marry together.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Does it impact how you approach the January window?

That’s a good question.

To a degree, yes, but I think what we try and do is have a fairly robust plan in place anyway. So, the work that goes on between one window closing and the other one opening has to be consistent.

I don’t think you can just ramp up that work because you might lose players. I think you always have to have an awareness of what might be available, what might fit with what you need and what might fit from a budget point of view.

The good thing is, we’ve managed to put a team in place that does that.

So, yes, losing any players would obviously change how quickly we needed ones in, in certain positions. But, it doesn’t really impact too much on the planning side of things.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

On the psychological impact of being in the top 2...

I think it’s been a good reward for what the players have put into the season to date because as time marches on, it’s so short term football and I’m as guilty of it as anybody, you forget where you were six months ago or three months ago, whatever it was and how much we’ve had to progress in that short space of time.

I think we are further ahead of where people envisaged.

So, it’s a fitting reward for what the players have put in, in that period. Naturally, the incentive for them was to go top and that would have been a greater reward for them. But I think to be where we are at this stage of the season is helpful for me as a manager.

Naturally, it’s helped to grow that confidence and belief.

Also, I think grow our hunger to be successful this season, I think that something that we’ve grown as time went on because they’re in and around those places, I think they know that there’s potentially something tangible for them this season be it in the shape of winning a title or achieving promotion.

We’ve got that, we’re there because of where we’ve been majority of the season and where we are at the moment. But as you mentioned, ideally for us and I’ve never shied away from that is about going that one position higher than we are at the moment.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

On adapting to teams stopping us from playing...

I think this league in particular, I think the Championship counts as similar, there is an air of unpredictability around it because I think teams do adjust how they play on weekly basis depending on the venue and the opponent.

Even for us, we’ve had teams come to the Stadium of Light this season and play very much on the front foot because I think they viewed it as a free hit, almost. Then Saturday, Wycombe came and were tremendously well organised and allowed us possession and made it very difficult for us to break them down.

They’re one of the first teams that’s really done that at home against us.

As much as we had to prep for that, to a degree and we had spoken playing a certain way, I think there were certain aspects of the game where we didn’t do as well as we had planned to do.

But that can happen through a little bit of frustration and a little bit of impatience.

The good thing is, I think you learn from every match whether you win, lose or draw and we tend to work that way.

So, the things that we didn’t do as well as we could have done on Saturday will stand us in good stead for when a similar game happens at the stadium because undoubtably we will have games like that again between now and the end of the season.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

How do the players deal with the expectations?

Again, I think it’s something that they’ve grown into this season.

As much as we have players who have played at the very top level and some players who have experienced dealing with being the favourites in games and dealing with being the big club, I think to face it every week has been new for everybody, me in included.

Every time we go home or away, we’re perceived as favourites, rightly or wrongly.

So, that was an adjustment period at the beginning, but I do believe now that they’re a group of players that have got used to that. They know what comes with that as well, the types of challenges they face, how difficult the opposition makes it and the atmosphere that follows these games home and away as well.

I think they actually enjoy it now, I enjoy it, I think the players enjoy it. But it is draining because they know they’ve got to be absolutely at it every single week.

Which means that if we do go on to achieve success this season, I spoke about them now seeing that potential reward for them, I think they’ll believe that they’ve earned it as well because it’s far from an easy league, as we’ve seen.

Sunderland AFC

On current injuries...

We still have some longer-term ones like Charlie Wyke and Ethan Robson.

Duncan Watmore will play in a 23s game at the beginning of next week, which is a big step forward for him. Lee remains out, Lee Cattermole, the earliest he will come back will be post Walsall in the FA Cup, the beginning of that week.

We’ve had some little niggles this week - Dylan McGeouch, Chris Maguire, Jerome Sinclair, so we’ll just have to see how they are from today into tomorrow.

We’re ok, but as usual, we’re carrying two or three that most clubs in the country will carry through the demands of this league.

Sunderland v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

On Walsall...

I’m sure Dean would agree, it’s not the ideal draw for anybody, especially coming in such proximity to the league game.

I know that they’ve changed their system recently which has brought them good rewards with their recent results.

Obviously, they started the season very well and they were up and around those top four/five positions for majority of that early part of the season.

It’s one of the grounds that I’m reasonably familiar with because I played there when I was down here, so that helps me a little bit in terms of being familiar with the surroundings.

But like every game, every home and away game we’ve had this season has been incredibly tough and I expect no different on Saturday.

Barnsley v Walsall - Sky Bet League One Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Was last week a reminder that the players can’t be complacent?

I said post-match that I didn’t think so because I thought their attitude and drive to get something from the game was evident throughout. There were aspects of the game that we could have done better, and we spoke about them on Tuesday.

The good thing is, the players are fairly honest in their reflection and they agreed with some of the points we made, and they probably strengthened those points as well with some of their comments.

But also, it was just one of those games, when I watched it back there were quite a lot of players individually that didn’t play as well as they normally do. It sounds very simplistic, but it does happen sometimes.

For a lot of them that have been very good through majority of the season, particularly in the final third, we just weren’t quite at it and that will happen.

The good thing is, when that happened, we still managed to preserve our unbeaten home record and still maintain our record of only losing one league game all season.

So, its encouraging for me in that respect. An ‘off day’ is the wrong expression, it’s too strong, but it was a day when too many individual players were below the levels they’re normally at.

Sunderland AFC

On the impact of last week’s substitutes...

I think all season we’ve had a really positive reaction from all players in that sense. I know that I get told often enough that I have a good squad here and I’ve agreed with that, I’m probably the one that talks about that often.

But not just here, at loads of other clubs up and down the country, there are loads of good squads, but you have to get the best from them. I think what we’ve done here is create a culture amongst the players that they believe it’s a group that’s having a good season to date and that’s been proven.

I think they also understand that when they get in the team, if they play well, they’ll stay in it. I’ve been fair in my team selection in that way, so I think that’s helped to breed an environment where players give the reaction that they did last week.

They’re good players that come off the bench last week, very good players, but their performance reflected that and that’s not always the case. So, as a group of players, they deserve an enormous amount of credit for that.