Watching Saturday’s game back again, it was difficult not to be impressed by the clinical nature of Jack Ross’ side. The expansive passing, the general determination both in and out of possession, and the resolve to get back to winning ways - Saturday’s victory against a Rochdale side who were unbeaten away from home until last weekend was very fulfilling.
But aside from the convincing performance and the solid scoreline, it was particularly satisfying to see several academy graduates put in tremendous performances.
Most would agree that Jack Ross has added some real quality to our side with a relatively limited expenditure. However, his decision to utilise our academy products actively in the first-team squad has been very pleasing.
Twenty-two year old Denver Hume is the latest youngster to be given a chance in the first-team - his recent performances have been excellent, including an assist in this weekend’s victory.
Jack Ross’ faith in our younger players has been clear for all to see this season, and many will be keen to see this progress as time goes by.
Obviously, Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford are the immediate names that spring to mind when conjuring images of successful academy graduates. However, under old ownership the club consistently failed to capitalise on developing talent.
Perhaps as much due to circumstance as planning, Sunderland have seemingly turned a corner in their bid to develop talent from within.
George Honeyman has been in and around the first-team for close to two seasons, and despite the fact he still has a smattering of detractors, he continues to improve at a rate of knots. At the weekend his decision making was impressive, and he was able to help dictate play between the midfield and forward lines. Jack Ross’ tutelage is serving him well.
Furthermore, Josh Maja has been in absolutely deadly form this campaign. With seven goals to his name so far, the young forward has lead the line in an exemplary manner. On Saturday, Ross reverted back to the system that catered to his qualities and the dividends were handsome. Thankful news in the wake of Charlie Wyke’s nasty injury.
Lynden Gooch is perhaps the most impressive player to truly emerge under Ross’ stewardship, though. The Cali-Mackem has been almost unplayable at times this season, and continues to provide the goods both in goals and assists. It doesn’t feel too bold a statement to suggest that Gooch is certainly capable of playing at a higher level than League One - why he wasn’t afforded more playing time last season is a baffling concept to which many fans have been left scratching their heads.
The numbers that matter when talking about @joshmaja this season...— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) September 23, 2018
9⃣ league appearances
1⃣ @EFL Young Player of the Month
Be there to witness it for yourself https://t.co/kXirNYT2jF#SAFC #HawayTheLads pic.twitter.com/LarwVtp0cM
As much as Jack Ross has almost had to rely on the aforementioned players due to our fall down the leagues, the decision to promote the likes of Denver Hume and Bali Mumba into the matchday squad certainly wasn’t borne out of necessity, however.
There was no major injury crisis that forced the manager’s hand into playing those aforementioned players, nor was it down to a lack of senior players - Jack Ross merely deemed them good enough to play first-team football for Sunderland AFC.
And that is why their impressive performances across this season so far should perhaps be met with even more praise than the incorporation of Gooch, Honeyman, and Maja. There was always the feeling that the listed triumvirate would find their way into our League One side, but the same cannot be said of Hume and Mumba.
Whatever Jack Ross is coaching into these young players is working, and it’s working rather quickly. When was the last time we used over six academy products (counting Robson and Embleton’s brief cameos) in one season?
It’s a brilliant feeling seeing one of our own out there succeeding on the pitch; however, looking at the situation from another angle, Jack Ross’ success with youth also raises another pertinent question.
How many more players could this club have helped to develop if only we’d had a manager and the position to give them a chance to succeed?
What would Ross have made of the likes of James Talbot, Michael Ledger, Tom Beadling, and Tommy Robson, but to name a few?
It’s an interesting concept that perhaps all a player needs in order to impress is merely a crack of the whip, so to speak. Faith placed in him by the man in charge.
Jack Ross might well have turned the Lads into a side capable of fighting for success this season, but the manner in which he has bred so much confidence in his players that even his young talent are forcing their way into the starting lineup is an incredible feat that perhaps deserves more praise than it has received.
It’s been said that you can’t win anything with kids, but maybe, just maybe, Jack Ross might be capable of giving that old adage a run for its money.