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Press Conference: Jack Ross remains strong with his stance on Duncan Watmore’s Sunderland return

Sunderland manager Jack Ross met the press today ahead of our trip to Port Vale on Saturday, answering questions on the return of Duncan Watmore, whether we take the cup seriously or not, McLaughlin pulling out of the Scotland squad and more.

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How big of a deal is the FA Cup this season?

I think it goes without saying that our main priority is obviously to achieve promotion and return to the Championship. But it’s a tournament that not only should retain its traditional values of how attractive it is to progress in it, but I know that Charlie has spoken this week about how it can benefit us financially.

So, there are a whole number of reasons why we want to progress in the competition and when you add in the form we’re in at the moment and wanting to continue that momentum of winning games means that it’s just as important of a game on Sunday as any league game we’ve had recently.

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On the importance of the prize money...

It’s not essential for us in terms of how we move forward, but I think it’s just another example of a more pragmatic approach to us running the club and understanding that all these small gains help us in a lot of different ways.

So, again, it’s not the main motivating factor for me. Naturally, we just want to keep winning games and progressing in the trophy, but there’s that added benefit for the club as well.

On rotating the squad in each competition...

The Checkatrade game is the most awkward because it’s midweek and obviously It’s proximity to the game on Sunday as well. Beyond that it’s relatively straight forward because I don’t view this weekend’s game as being any different to a normal league fixture. It falls on a weekend and you’ve had a rest period or preparation period rather, after Plymouth before it.

So, the two games, the Port Vale game and the Wycombe game are relatively straight forward. The Checkatrade one is obviously the one that’s the most challenging because of when it falls.

On keeping the momentum going...

Again, as I mentioned, in terms of needing a rest, not necessarily just because it’s longer than a week we’ve rested now between Plymouth.

So, it’s just exactly the same as it would be for a league game.

I don’t look at our preparation or our plans being any different than they would be if we were playing a league match this weekend.

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On the buzz around the game being televised...

I think I’ve got a squad of players that are well used to playing in either big games or in televised matches.

So, for the vast majority of them, that makes no difference to their plans, their preparation or how they feel about the game.

But there is a mood of optimism and feeling upbeat around the group.

They’re excited about playing games on a weekly or a twice-weekly basis because of the form their in, not just as a group, but individually. When you’re like that, you just want the games to keep coming around and hence the reason why I keep mentioning about how they’re training at the moment.

They trained really well again this morning in preparation for Sunday.

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On not being complacent...

I don’t think the challenge for us playing Port Vale is much different from the challenges we face away from home every week in the league. I’ve spoken often enough about each and every away game having a cup tie feel around them.

If you’ve been present at any of the away games, you’d understand that. The intensity around the atmosphere and the level of the opposition that we’ve faced has been pretty intense and it’s been hard work on a fortnightly basis when we’ve been away from home.

So, that will stand us in good stead because Sunday will be exactly the same away from home against a team that will be determined to try and beat us and take us as a scalp.

So, we’ve had good preparation in that sense and I’m looking forward to it. It’s just different opposition, but in terms of our preparation, it’s been absolutely in-line and as consistent as it has been for each and every league game this season.

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On McLaughlin withdrawing from the Scotland squad...

I spoke to Alex yesterday and I had a chat with Jon previous to that. It was very clear to Alex that in terms of the international setup, not just because it’s Scotland and it’s where I’m from, but any international team, I would never stand in the way of any of our players being involved with them. But we’re in a unique situation where we have international players and yet, we can’t automatically have games called off like the Premiership and Championship.

So, that is a challenge for the international managers as well because they’re obviously selecting their squad based simply on who they would like available. So, I had a good chat with Alex and explained that our game with Wycombe was going ahead and you know, Jon is obviously third choice in that squad. So, between us we agreed that it would be good for Jon to continue to play with us in that fixture.

I’m very grateful to Alex for how helpful he was and how understanding he was at the position that we’re in. It certainly wasn’t on Jon’s behalf, a lack of desire to be involved with his country. It’s a difficult situation when your club side is continuing to play games during that period.

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On Max Power returning...

Excellent for me, it just strengthens our squad again.

It’s been very stop start as we know for Max this season. He’s continued to train well in the period he’s been out, and he played a bounce game during the week which got him a feel for playing on a big pitch again.

It’s a bonus for us to have him back in the squad and to come through that period where he’s been absent in such good form is encouraging for me as well.

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Can you put a time frame on Duncan’s return?

No, I’ve been very consistent in that answer that I’ve never put a time frame on it.

I’ve been consistent with my conversations with Duncan on that, hence the reason why he’s responded so well, and his progress has been so consistent as well.

Touch wood, but the work that Paul Walsh and Peter Brand have done with him in the medical and sports science side has been fantastic and it’s allowed him to progress as this steady rate and feel as good as he does about himself.

He played a little bit of a bounce game; an in-house bounce game and the next step will be involved with the Under 23’s. Once he comes through that then we start to assess when he can become involved in first-team games, but no definitive timeline on it.

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On success coming down to continuity...

It obviously helps. We had to be creative in our system and the use of our personnel earlier on in the season. Although we’ve still had injuries to contend with, that defensive unit has been settled.

The work that they’ve done has remained consistent, it hasn’t just all of a sudden been that we’ve began to do that work during this period, it’s been there since the start of the season.

The little bits and pieces that we needed to get better at, I think we have done and then like anything, once you start to build momentum of achieving those clean sheets, it’s remarkable how that can continue to grow your self-belief and confidence.

Obviously, the desire to keep achieving them even if you’re winning comfortably in a game has been evident, so hopefully that will continue to be the case.

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On the Morecambe game...

Similarly, in Scotland, we have a tournament for the teams outside of the top league and it’s a tournament usually only comes to life once you get to the latter stages of it. But I’ve said from day one of this tournament that we can never ignore the fact that that’s what’s at stake, a trophy and a final at the national stadium.

I think you can see from our team selection in how we’ve approached the two games to date that we’ve very much had that in mind. That will continue to be the case on Tuesday. It is the most challenging out of any of the Checkatrade fixtures we’ve had, simply because of its timing and we have this FA Cup tie that’s been moved as well. So, we will field the strongest team possible for us, baring in mind that we also have an important game against Wycombe four days after that.

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