On Portsmouth being a statement game...
I think it’s like all games, individually they’re never going to define your season, unless it’s the final game of a season and the outcome of that will determine where you finish.
But when you’re in the middle of a season, there’re games that take on significance because of where teams find themselves in the league.
So, I’m not going to shy away from that.
It’s an important game given where Portsmouth are, given where we are and given where we both want to be at the end of the season. I think we’ve enjoyed these types of fixtures this season. I do feel as if the players have brought out their best in these bigger games, if you like.
So, I’m hopeful that will be the case again on Saturday.
On the dynamic changing with a win...
I think we’ve seen that already, even in the past 6 to 8 weeks.
I think what Portsmouth have done this season has been fantastic. To lead the table for as long as they have done and be as consistent as that is not easy in this league.
There have been times where that gap has looked bigger and got bigger and then there’s times when it’s closed. Obviously, we missed an opportunity not so long ago to go above them and since then, they’ve been strong again in terms of their results.
Again, as you mentioned there, the last couple of weeks has allowed us to narrow that gap. There’s obviously another team in between us at the moment in Luton and other teams around us.
I wouldn’t play down the importance of the game, but equally, whoever wins or whatever the outcome of the game, it’s not going to define either clubs’ season.
On the momentum building within the squad...
I think rather than just being a few weeks, because of the season we’ve had to only lose one game out of 20 in the league is good.
I think for me, because I’ve only worked with the squad or came into the club in the summer, maybe I don’t notice it as much. But when I speak to people around the club, there’s obviously a significant shift for them in terms of that feeling around the place and that happens when you’re winning football matches.
So, that is tangible. I can see it, but maybe I take it for granted a little bit more, but certainly other people have commented to me on that.
That air of optimism that’s around the place, I think we had that with new ownership in the summer, but because we’ve managed to be really good in our performances and results, we’ve managed to harness that.
We can continue to grow it and we’ll only keep doing that if we keep winning matches.
How do you assess the season at this point?
Probably in a couple of ways. I think because of how I am, I would want to be top. I think that’s how I would always judge myself in being a success.
However, to contradict that slightly, I do feel as if we’re probably further ahead. I think everybody that was involved at the starting point in the summer, I don’t think a lot of us would have believed this is where we would be.
It was in, I don’t want to say turmoil, it was just transition. It was going through a huge transition through all different areas of the club and all these different areas impact on the football side as well.
So, there was a lot going on and we had a lot of work to do. I think collectively, we felt that if we were in and around those top seven or eight places in the league, it would allow us to take a deep breath in January and push on again from there.
So, I do feel as if we’re maybe ahead, only because of the circumstances in the summer, not because of where we want to be as a club, but just because of the circumstances that we had six months ago.
On ongoing contract talks with Maja and Gooch...
I think hoping, yeah, it’s probably a good word to describe it.
They’ve both spoken frequently and consistently that I believe both players want to stay at the club. I think they’re still young enough in their career to realise that this is a great place for them to be, so that is a good starting point.
There’re always external factors that come into play and these are the things that slow down the process at times.
But I would be hopeful still that they’ll both remain at the club and if they are remaining at the club, then we’ll know sooner rather than later.
On strengthening the squad in January...
I don’t envisage or want to do too much. I think if we can strengthen in one, possibly two areas, we’ll do that. I’m conscious that we did a lot of work in the summer and we rebuilt a lot of the squad.
It’s a good squad, not just in terms of their ability, but they’re mixed in their character in how they’ve came together, and I don’t want to disrupt that. If we can strengthen a little bit, then we’ll do that.
It’s also a notoriously difficult month to get right. It’s a lot more challenging this window than a summer window. But we’re in a good position in that we’re not having to do anything through panic. I think because we’ve refined ourselves, we can do things quite sensibly and that will be the case.
I don’t think we’ll be busy, but that’s not to say that we won’t do anything. I think we’ll look to maybe strengthen one or two areas.
On supporters coming together...
I had experiences in a job before whereby there was a disconnect between the club and supporters. I think there was maybe a little bit of that here as well and there are many different ways in which you can rebuild that.
The very obvious one is by winning games, but there’re several others and that’s the communication and relationship we try and build with the supporters.
To Stewart and Charlie’s credit and those people who work within the club, we’ve made big efforts to do that.
I’m quite a traditionalist in terms of football that sometimes I think it’s important to take step back and think about why we all come to watch games or watch it on television or be interested in what’s going on with it.
It’s good to get back to that sometimes and the Gift of Football idea that I think originated from supporters and has been carried forward is remarkable.
It’s something that I would envisage might be replicated by other clubs because I think they’ll recognise it’s a fantastic idea and a way for a supporter to back their club given that they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to come and watch the game. Ultimately, that’s why this sport originated in the first place, people come and get enjoyment from it.
The great thing is that they’ll have that opportunity on Boxing Day.
How much enjoyment comes with it obviously comes down to myself and the players with the result we’ll produce. You mentioned pride in that and I think everybody associated with the club should take enormous satisfaction in not only creating the idea but fulfilling it in the way they have done with the numbers they’ve gifted.
On a packed stadium on Boxing Day impacting the players...
I mentioned earlier about even going to Fratton Park on Saturday that by in large, the players have responded to the bigger games, the bigger crowds and the bigger atmospheres.
We’ll certainly have that on Boxing Day and it’s going back to my previous answer as well, I think if you’re a manager, coach or a player and you’re fortunate enough to be involved in this profession and earn a living from it, then this is why you do it.
To have the privilege of being involved with a club that can generate that number of home supporters is outstanding. It is a privilege and I mean that sincerely.
For me, it’s an honour to do it. The expectation and pressure, I live with that every single day in this job, so 30,000, 35, 40,000, it doesn’t really change in the respect to the pressure.
There’s a responsibility upon us to deliver for these people and that will be the same again for Boxing Day. It just so happens that we might have an extra 10,000 of them to please, but hopefully we can do that.
On being aware of bringing people back to the stadium...
I probably wasn’t aware of it in terms of footfall as much, I think that I was aware of the damage that two consecutive relegation's can do to a club, not just Sunderland, any club.
To have had those, you’ll not have won many games in that period and that has a knock-on effect about people’s appetite to come into the stadium.
I knew because of the communication I had with Stewart and Charlie about how they had to try and rebuild the club in that respect and they’ve done that remarkably well and they need to be backed up by what we did on the pitch.
I mentioned about coming a long way in a short period of time on the playing side, but I think the whole club has done.
We’ve probably grabbed it, we just need to make sure we harness it and keep it going.
We’ve got to continually reward these people who have shown remarkable loyalty through a challenging period. They don’t want to be where we are at the moment either, I think they’re enjoying it, like we all are.
But we want to strive to get back to a level that rewards the numbers that are turning out at the moment because those numbers, nobody can argue whether they like or loath Sunderland, nobody can argue that those aren’t Premiership club numbers, that’s just the reality of it.
Have you watched the new documentary yet?
I have, yes. I’ve watched all of it, I’ve watched the whole lot now. I didn’t do it it in chronological order, I jumped a little bit, I want to the end first, then beginning and then the middle.
It was good. It was probably nice for me to watch it given that a lot of the people that feature in it I now have relationships with at the club. The one thing I thought it did really was one, it paints a very good picture of this area.
I think some of the footage of the area itself was very, very good and very positive and I think it does capture the essence of this football club in terms of how passionate the people are about it and how sore it’s been for them in the last couple of years as well.
I enjoyed it. I tried to look at it, although it was difficult, to be non-Sunderland related. I think the production company behind it have done a remarkably good job on it and it may encourage them to do a second series, which might make my life more difficult at times.
Nonetheless, I think in the main give the circumstances, it paints the club in a positive light.
On team news for Saturday...
We have a couple of potential worries, but we’ll assess them tomorrow.
By in large, it will be a similar squad to last weekend. Reece James is back training, he was the one who obviously missed out last week.
On rotating the squad around this time of year...
Already, I think you’ve seen that we’ve rotated the squad at times, we’ve freshened our personnel. We’ve had three weeks previous to this one where we’ve had midweek and then post this Saturday, we’ve got three weeks again where we have midweek fixtures.
So, it’s understandable that we’ll freshen the team up as we go along and pick teams that we think are most appropriate for each fixture.