With Sunderland’s squad coming close to full fitness, the past few weeks have thrown up more and more selection dilemmas for Jack Ross. That being said, the problem of who’s been playing well enough to start is the best kind of problem for a manager, and it’s going to set Sunderland out in front of the other teams vying for promotion this season.
We may be only nine matches into the current campaign, but already there has been a steady rotation throughout the starting eleven.
The perfect man to start with here is Chris Maguire. Having lost his place in the side, the former Oxford midfielder has clearly reacted in just the manner you’d want a player you’d want them to. He followed up his wonder goal from the bench at Burton to putting in an almost perfect performance against Rochdale.
Maguire’s early season form showed just how good he is at this level - the way in which he reacted so positively to being dropped is testament to him as a player and his manager’s bravery to take an under-performing player out of the side. Arguably, it was a wake-up call for Maguire, and the end result has been incredibly positive.
We have plenty of midfield players waiting in the wings, meaning any players not play at a standard we know that they’re capable of will be swiftly axed. This can only be a benefit to ensuring players keep up their high levels of performance - knowing that they will be dropped should have all our players in the squad on their toes.
That being said, the right back position has caused us issues this season, and despite the fact that Denver Hume impressed there, he is naturally a left-back by trade.
Lynden Gooch has been asked to play at right-wing-back in our new-look lopsided 3-5-2 system, but him aside it’s probably the weakest area of our side in terms of depth.
In general, though, the attitude of fringe players taking their chances is growing through this squad. Robbin Ruiter may have been restricted to just one cup appearance this year, but his clean sheet against Stoke’s young side included some top draw keeping and two penalty saves.
He might not get many more chances this season but he, like many others, have shown that they are up to the grade should they be called upon.
We’re lucky to have such depth in the squad this season.
League One is sometimes an uphill struggle, what with the many midweek games and (in Sunderland’s case) many long-distance trips. It is this depth which will make Sunderland stronger than most of our opposition. Not many sides will have the combination of experience and ability in a matchday squad like Sunderland do.
Take the 4-1 win over Rochdale for example - our midfield controlled the match without arguably our best midfielder. With Max Power back in the side we’ll have the option of an improving Dylan McGeouch on the bench.
This sort of intensity and depth has earned us points so far this season and will undoubtedly help us to pick up many more in the months to come.
Several teams have run out of steam against us in the opening clashes of the campaign. With the games coming thick and fast, the squad rotations will most likely be a weekly tactic for Ross - especially if they continue to see the points total ticking over.