When the news emerged that Lee Cattermole would miss this weekend’s game, Sunderland fans would be forgiven for presuming Luke O’Nien would be the obvious shoe-in.
Ross, however, heeded the advice of an age old cliche, and fortune certainly did favour his bold decision to bring Aiden McGeady into the side when many would have presumed either Luke O’Nien or Bali Mumba would be the obvious replacements.
McGeady bagged both goals in what was actually a good game of football, and Ross’ small adjustment in moving George Honeyman into a deep-lying midfield role was an excellent choice.
Sunderland’s back five essentially picks itself at the minute, and our defensive unit was once again able to keep a well-deserved clean sheet.
Jerome Sinclair was a little unlucky to be left out, but Maja’s goal-scoring record speaks for itself. The youngster linked up Sunderland’s play well, and gives Sunderland a great outlet up front when the ball is played into his feet.
Verdict: Another Jack Ross tactical tinker reaped dividends - another three points in the bag. Class.
Sunderland’s fluid attacking play is a joy to behold at times, and Sunderland were again impressive in spells away at Argyle.
That’s not to say Plymouth were poor, in fact they were relatively impressive at times, and caused Sunderland trouble - especially from set-pieces. The hosts had managed seven goals and six points from their previous two league fixtures, but Ross’ side were able to make small changes to their play in order to find a way to win.
The defence speaks for itself, and ten blocked shots is an impressive return. In front of the back line, Dylan McGeouch and George Honeyman shielded well, and provided an outlet to encourage the side to recycle the ball.
A fluid front four of Maja, Maguire, Gooch and McGeady were simply too much for Plymouth, though, and once again made the difference.
This week’s slight change appeared to be in the way in which Gooch and McGeady operated more as inside forwards, always looking to bring the play back infield even though they were just as comfortable trying to beat their man on the outside.
McGeady found success from the wing; after a tricky opening half the Irishman cut inside, dribbled past several players, and unleashed a fantastic long-range striker beyond the Plymouth keeper setting Sunderland on their way to six wins in a row... sounds familiar.
Verdict: Small changes make a big difference, and Ross seems to know exactly how to adjust his side in order to find maximum points.
Sinclair and O’Nien were brought onto the pitch with around twenty minutes left to play; their desire and energy not only forced Plymouth onto the back foot, but also earned The Lads a penalty that Aiden McGeady duly dispatched.
Sunderland have a great squad right now, with a number of players itching to get into the starting line-up, and Jack Ross’ substitutions reflect the array of talent he has at his disposal. Ross’ changes are constantly positive, and he has a real knack for understanding exactly what needs to change on the pitch.
On Saturday a non-substitution was also an impressive piece of game management. Most fans who watched this past weekend’s game would be forgiven for thinking that McGeady would have been subbed at half time as he wasn’t particularly effective in the first half. However, Ross obviously saw the need to keep the former Preston man on the pitch, and his decision to stick with McGeady obviously paid off.
Ross’ observations post-game were interesting as usual:
I thought, with the exception of that 15/20 minute period in the second half where we lost a little bit of control of the game, it was maybe as good as we have played away from home, in terms of dominating the game.
I stressed at half-time to remain patient and to continue the things we are good at. I thought in the first half we were good, I couldn’t have to much criticism coming away from home and being fairly dominant in the game.
They defended their box well in that latter part of the first half and we got a little bit impatient and a little bit narrow, in terms of trying to force things through the middle of the pitch a bit. We have good width in our team, quality in the wide areas.
That was one thing we stressed, to keep using that width and then you can penetrate from there.
Ross clearly understands how important his wide players are to his chances of success, but he also paid service to the quality of our finishing:
It was one of those days, we have been clinical this season, scoring in every league game is a good achievement.
Our forward players have been good but we do a lot of work in training on it and the one thing we always stress is that width and possession in the final third because it helps to stretch teams.
The work has been consistent and continuous and I suppose a little bit of that was making slight adjustments but also, continuing to believe in the work you do on the training pitch and encouraging players to do that.
I thought we defended really well throughout the course of the whole game but that 10/15 minute spell, we lost a bit of control of the match.
Then it is last ditch stuff and obviously Jon making saves but when you get a tangible reward like clean sheets, that belief starts to grow that you aren’t going to concede.
It was also great to see Ross discuss how impressive his defence has been recently - the foundation of our recent success.
Verdict: Ross is highly intelligent, and clearly understand his squad inside and out. Long may this form continue!