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Nick Barnes: Jack Ross has been Sunderland’s best signing & is the man to lead them to promotion

Jack Ross’ exemplary handling of the circus of a Checkatrade Trophy tie shows another side to an ever-improving and pragmatic manager.

Danny Roberts |

Yesterday came the news that Luton Town manager Nathan Jones had left to join Stoke City as their new boss - just the latest twist in this jamboree of a season. Is that a good or a bad thing? Who knows.

Luton will have a system they play and are comfortable with both home and away - there is an argument that it’ll be tougher facing a team with a caretaker manager than a team with a new man in charge who may tinker. It’s just the latest challenge facing Jack Ross, who admits he relishes the weekly pitting of his wits against his League One counterparts.

Sunderland have reached the New Year very much in contention to earn automatic promotion without pulling up any trees, and as a consequence they’re under scrutiny from fans who worry they will fall at the final hurdle, pipped at the post by Luton, Portsmouth, Charlton, Barnsley or even Peterborough.

There are genuine concerns with the table being so tight at the top, but take a step back and scrutinise the season to date.

In Jack Ross Sunderland have a thoughtful, thorough, pragmatic and ambitious manager. His handling of the Checkatrade Trophy tie with Newcastle United’s under 21s was exemplary - he played it down and doggedly refused to be drawn into the circus which saw more press at the tie than would turn up for a regular League One fixture.

Sunderland AFC

One of Sunderland’s biggest matches of the season to date will welcome only a handful of reporters, while the visit of Newcastle’s U21s saw a phalanx of journalists scenting an upset. Ross refused to be cowed by the clamour surrounding the fixture and named a solid starting eleven, and shrewdly named seven under 23s on the bench.

Job done. No fuss. Problem dismissed.

From the moment Sunderland opted for Jack Ross ahead of the likes of Paul Hurst or Chris Wilder, the signature of the 42-year-old has been one of the best signings of the season.

Faced with all the shenanigans surrounding Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji, the uncertainty over the futures of the likes of Aiden McGeady, Bryan Oviedo, and Lee Cattermole and having to build a new team to tackle League One, Ross has been unflinching in his steady resolve to achieve the primary aim of winning promotion and at the same time embracing, refreshingly, the cup competitions.

Losing to Walsall in the FA Cup was an anomaly which perhaps could have been predicted once the draw had established they would face Bolton away if they were to win. I read criticism of Sunderland failing to consolidate their lead against Charlton at the weekend, citing it as a common failing of the team.

In reality there have only been a few occasions Sunderland have taken the lead and been pegged back and generally away from home too. Luton and Coventry spring to mind. If there has been a more pertinent concern, it has been the propensity to concede the opening goal at the Stadium of Light and struggle to dominate at home.

There are manifold reasons for that - the principal one being that away teams see playing Sunderland at the Stadium of Light as their Cup final. Notable in that respect were Wycombe Wanderers and Shrewsbury Town, but the approach taken earlier in the season by the likes of Oxford United and Fleetwood was also an important factor. It’s to Jack Ross’ credit that Sunderland are still unbeaten at home in the League, having to tackle the variables being thrown up by their home fixtures.

Sunderland AFC

No home defeats and only two away is a more than commendable record, and with a January transfer window which should see one or two, possibly three, additions to the squad and possibly no departures - and in that I include Josh Maja - then the platform is built for the remainder of the season.

On Maja, that is another area in which Ross has displayed good man management.

No hysterics. No public damning of the agent with whom he could justifiably feel indignant and angered, but a composed and thoughtful response to an unnecessary situation that threatened to overwhelm the club in January.

To sit down and have a conversation with Jack Ross is an enlightening experience. He brings to the table a love of football rooted in his experience as a fan, a player and now a manager, but allied with an intellect which allows him to dissect what he sees as his shortcomings with an analytical thoroughness bordering on obsession.

It is that obsession which won’t allow Jack Ross to leave any stone unturned in his bid to win promotion this season, and when a fan complains about a substitution or a tactic or a team selection, believe me the thought process behind it will have been extensive.

Ross readily admits to making mistakes. After all he is only human, but he will also point to the statistics which illustrate that on average the win rate for managers in any league is around the 40% mark.

Pep Guardiola has a win percentage of 69.7% at Manchester City. Ross currently has a win rate of 55.8% at Sunderland. Kenny Jackett is 54.55% at Portsmouth. These things are relative of course because each of those managers has been in charge for more matches, but taking into consideration Ross has achieved his percentage rate starting from scratch in the summer it’s not to be sniffed at.

There is still a long way to go this season, but to have managed his team into the last eight of the Checkatrade Trophy and the top three of League One only bodes well for the remainder of the season.

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