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Press Conference: Jack Ross gives important update on Duncan Watmore’s return to 1st team action

Sunderland manager Jack Ross met the media this afternoon ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup game at Walsall, and gave a big indication of when we can expect to see Duncan Watmore back out on the pitch for the first team.

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On the busy schedule...

Any league outside of the Premier League in this part of the world is relentless. The number of league games and when you add in the fact that we’ve progressed in these cup competitions to date means that it’s constant.

Physically, I think the players are dealing with it well. I think they’ve shown already that their conditioning levels are good, they’ve coped with a lot. Like everything, when you’re in good form, it’s much easier to deal with. It sounds as if I’m stating the obvious, but that is the case.

So, a lot of them are in good form individually and as a team, they’re producing good results. Which means that they look forward to games, they’re more excited about the games as they come around. It’s slightly frustrating because you spend a lot less time on the training pitch, but they couldn’t be in a better position at the moment in terms of taking these games on.

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On learning from the Barnsley game...

Yeah, it was good.

It was an enjoyable game, it was another test for us because of how Barnsley are as a squad and where they were last season. The players they have within their group, where they are at the moment and the current form they’re in.

So, there were loads of things that pointed to it being a big test for us and it was another one that we’ve came through.

Each and every time we’ve been asked questions this season, I think by in large, they’ve responded. Every time you do that, naturally, the belief strengthens each and every time.

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On going to Walsall full of confidence...

As I mentioned, because they’re in a good run of form and they’ve won so many games this year and only losing that one league game, I think they believe they’ll score every game, which they’ve shown to date.

It just means they’re in a good place.

Individually, they are and then as a whole squad. The great thing is, we’ve not relied on 12 or 13 players, it has been very much a collective effort.

I think mainly it’s probably good having these cup games because the league is relentless.

Although we very much want to keep progressing in these two cups, it has a different feel around it. I’d loathe to say less pressure, I just think it has a different feel around it and it gives a bit of freshness to this week in particular because we were there on league business last week.

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Does Saturday’s game have an extra edge?

I think it’s probably the only time down here where you’ll get a similar scenario to what I faced in Scotland a lot because you play each other four times, any previous game is usually taken into consideration because it’s not that long before you play each other again, whereas in England its usually quite spread apart.

It certainly doesn’t make us look at the game any differently.

I didn’t have any issues with the game last week other than it being competitive and a big challenge for us. I thought last week it had a cup tie atmosphere around it because of the support we brought and then how the game unfolded.

So, I expect the same again this weekend.

I don’t think we’re going to go into anything different than we faced last weekend.

It showed last week how tough a challenge it was to go there and get a result and I would expect the same again this weekend.

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On Max Power’s mentality ahead of the weekend...

I’m pleased we had a midweek game in between the two games because it was a tiring period for him mentally. Even his own preparation would have been slightly hindered by the fact that he didn’t know if he was playing until late Monday afternoon.

So, to get that game out of the way and the attention that was focused on him because of that was good. I had a good chat with him again today and he feels a lot better.

It’s not washed away but getting that first game out of the way and performing in the manner that he did. You can’t overlook the fact that he hasn’t played a lot of football recently as well, so even asking him to go and play 90 minutes in an intensity that game was played at and also with a lot taken out of him mentally over the last few days as well.

So, delighted he got that game out of the way and he’s probably looking forward to really kick starting his Sunderland career.

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On Luke O’Nien...

You get some players that come to a club who settle right away, others take longer. I don’t mean settle as in he was finding it hard amongst the group, he’s been really good since day one. It’s a big change for him, also meaning in his personal life because he’s living away from home for the first time, so there are loads of different things to consider.

So, we felt as if we kind of tried to manage and coach him in the best way and I think now he completely feels part of the club and that’s been backed up by the contribution he’s made. What he’s doing is, is he’s making it harder and harder for me to leave him out.

He’s such a good lad anyway that he appreciates it’s all about the group. The challenge for him at the moment is that all of the players that are starting are doing well also. So, he’ll get more and more opportunities, I think we’ve seen that recently. He’s got more and more game time and he’ll be starting more games as well.

We always felt that he would be an asset to us this season and I’m pleased that he’s showing that.

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On Duncan Watmore’s fitness...

Yeah, it was another big step for him, he did well. It was a competitive game on Monday, all Under 23’s games are competitive to an extent, but I think with it being a derby match and having that bit of competitiveness about it. If you’d have seen the game, he had to withstand challenges in it that reflected how a normal game would be.

He trained again today, and we’ll look at the Checkatrade game on Tuesday and potentially his involvement in that. If he does become involved in that, it’s another really big step for him because it’s a first team game. I think I said that prior to his 23’s game, that’s him pretty much there, which is brilliant for him, first and foremost.

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

On looking ahead to the FA Cup 3rd round...

I just want to continue to progress in it. I said before the first round that I’d never pretend that promotion isn’t the absolute priority for us and we’d sacrifice everything else for that, but we want to continue to progress in all the tournaments that we’re involved in.

Naturally, for me, this tournament is still a big tournament. To progress in it, we’re going to have to work harder than we’ve done in a lot of recent years because of when we entered the tournament. Again, the incentive is to just progress to the next round, regardless of the fact that although the teams that enter the competition just to keep progressing, that’s what we want to do.

I don’t want to come out of it to relieve fixture congestion, I want to stay in it as long as we can.

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