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Press Conference: Jack Ross on Scunthorpe, transfers & Josh Maja possibly leaving Sunderland

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Sunderland manager Jack Ross met with the press today ahead of the Scunthorpe game and answered questions on speculation regarding Josh Maja’s future, signing a new striker and more.

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On training this morning...

It was OK.

I think we’ve benefited from a largely mild winter this year, which is naturally beneficial to you as a manager or coach.

We’re blessed with the choice of facilities here, but we’ve still not managed to go indoors at any point, which is good at this stage of the season.

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On team news ahead of the weekend...

Squad wise, not that dissimilar to last weekend.

Lee obviously returns from suspension, Duncan still hasn’t trained as of yet, but hopefully he’ll be back with the main group tomorrow, obviously it was a fairly minor injury anyway.

George remains out for Saturday’s match, which is obviously a blow for us and Josh returns from illness as well.

So, those that were big players, if you like, that were missing last weekend with the exception of George, will be back available for this weekend.

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On George Honeyman...

Divides your opinion?

Well, with some, certainly doesn’t divide opinion from me or my staff or people within this club.

I’ve been incredibly consistent with my opinion of George through the course of the whole season, that’s why he was given the captaincy as a young man.

But sometimes this happens with football, you don’t realise what somebody gives you or some people don’t realise what somebody gives, until they’re not there and maybe George fits into that category.

His contribution this season has been great, so we have missed him.

I think even the aftermath of last weekend, it’s something we don’t do a lot, we don’t really look for excuses or look for outs, if you like, when we don’t put up a positive result.

But we played against a team who are second in the table last week without our top scorer or our captain and we didn’t mention it after the game, but that was the reality of it.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

On the physicality Cattermole brings to the team...

Lee again, like George, has had a really positive season.

Naturally, when he had that spell of scoring goals it all of a sudden catapulted him back into the headlines.

But his overall contribution both on and off the pitch, so both on a match day and in and around training every single day and the way that Lee trains each and every day is a huge help to me.

So, having him back into the squad.

Even his presence in the changing room, so taking George and Lee because George has captained the team, he is the club captain, but in George’s absence, when Lee’s been available, he’s captained the side.

So, we’ve taken out, even within the changing room on a match day, two influential figures in terms of how they move around the group and how they are on a match day.

So, having Lee back in among the group this weekend is a bonus.

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On forwards killing games off...

I understand that because we’ve not scored freely in the last six to eight weeks and naturally, when you’re ahead in the game, if you score the second then obviously it makes it more difficult for teams to come back.

I think the Charlton game probably highlighted that because we were so good in the opening period.

Yet, sometimes you have to temper that with the fact that we’re the only team in England that have scored in every league game this season.

So, that is an incredible statistic and a fantastic record.

We loathe to be too critical of what we’ve done in forward areas this season when you look at that record.

However, this is a critical point of the season in terms of what you’re able to put in place for the second half of it.

So, going back to what you mentioned, its important that we at least maintain what we have in forward areas, which is obviously attributing to Josh’s situation and ideally strengthen it and bring others in that we feel can give us more goal-scoring opportunities, if you like.

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On Josh Maja’s contract situation...

At least I’m still smiling about it. What have we got? Another couple of weeks?

We’ll see if it grinds me down by then.

I know I’ve been quite stoic in saying that I’ve just continued as is.

Like everybody, I would rather know with clarity how the situation is and how it will unfold because I think that’s a benefit, not just to me selfishly as a manager, but to everybody at the club.

So, it has dragged on a little bit and I do think that we really need to see a solution one way or another.

Certainly, in terms of speculation, that’s exactly what it is.

There’s been absolutely no concrete offer or interest that we’ve been made aware of from other clubs.

Now, that’s not to say there isn’t and that’s not to say that that’s not been communicated to Josh via other parties because that happens in the game as well.

But certainly, from our point as a club, we’ve had no communication from other clubs.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

On Maja potentially being bought and loaned back...

Yes, it’s a potential option, it’s a potential solution, if you like.

If he did go, then naturally we’d have to find a replacement at a time when we’re trying to strengthen in that area.

I’ve had a similar situation not that long ago with a young player called Lewis Morgan who signed for Celtic in January and was loaned back to St Mirren at the time and it was a perfect scenario for me at that juncture.

So, it’s something because of Josh’s agent perhaps how any purchasing club that view him, that could be an option for us.

But that’s all it is, it’s nothing that has been even discussed more than as a potential scenario just simply because there’s been no concrete interest or discussion from other clubs, as I mentioned.

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On bringing in another forward regardless of Maja’s situation...

Yes, absolutely.

If Josh remains at the club, then we want to bring one in.

If Josh goes, then obviously that becomes two because we need to have enough attacking options.

By attacking options, I mean natural or out and out strikers because we’ve played the whole season with Josh as one and Charlie coming back fit.

A lot of our other attacking players, you can make an argument for them being half wide players and half number tens, whatever it might be, not out and out strikers.

So, that remains a priority for us.

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On Maguire’s successful appeal...

His reaction after the game, his first comment to me that was he absolutely didn’t do anything wrong.

Now, a lot of players tell you that, but I think I said that immediately post-match and having watched it, it wasn’t what it was deemed to be by the officials.

So, relief and pleased for us and that’s one of the benefits of having Fulwell and Netflix around, you get different camera angles.

So, I’ll throw that in as a positive.

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Are you close on any deals?

No, there’s nothing as of this moment that’s imminent.

I’ve always pointed out that if that changes, it’s not because I’m trying to not tell you the truth, it’s just the nature of this game meaning that sometimes things change dramatically and as quickly as a 12 or 24-hour period.

Certainly, as I’m in here at the moment, as things stand, I don’t envisage any additions to my squad prior to Saturday.

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On the work going on behind the scenes...

That’s been the case for a long time.

I’ve said that about trying to make sure that you’re prepared for any eventuality.

You can be prepared, but then the reality of those situations becomes different.

You can identify players, you can try and get them and sometimes the goalposts shift when you’re trying to get players.

Sometimes other circumstances come into play, sometimes the circumstances around the club that the player’s at changes, with what they need.

So, it can be a little frustrating in that sense.

We’ve not had a bad season to date, we want to be in a position where we’re stronger in the second half of the season.

But I’m conscious what the group have done has been good to date, so we need to make sure that anybody we do bring in strengthens us.

There’s no point bringing in somebody for the sake of it.

This window in particular is one where you have to be careful of that.

You end up bringing in players that don’t improve you and just add to your numbers.

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On the progress of the squad since playing Scunthorpe...

That day was probably unusual in that it was very comfortable for us at that time and it was probably quite a dominant home performance.

Now, the reality is that a lot of games this season have been a lot more challenging.

I know Scunthorpe will have changed a lot since then, they’ve changed management, they’ve changed personnel and they’ve obviously changed a lot of their performances.

But that seems an awful long time ago now, but the good thing is that we’ve managed to keep ourselves in and around the position that could give us success this season, so that’s encouraging.

Even at the embryonic stage of the season, it was difficult to say with certainty, but we were probably still feeling our way, not just me as a manager and coaches into this league, but as a playing squad, feeling our way into the league together.

So, at least we’ve got to this early January stage still in a similar position as to we were then.

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On the Scunthorpe game...

They had a change of manager not long after that game actually, and I know Stuart, especially recently, has had a real positive impact and their recent form is very good.

Every single away game, I know I repeat myself with it, but the fact that we’ll take a sell-out crowd as per every other away game this season, it seems to be that on those occasions the home club ask for their fans to turn out in numbers, which they usually do.

It then creates this cup-tie atmosphere.

Again, we’ve got used to it, it just means it’s challenging.

So, Saturday is a really difficult game for us.

Each and every time we go away from home it’s tough for all of those reasons I’ve mentioned, and Saturday will be no different.

It’s where we are as a club.

We understand that it was a Premiership club two seasons ago, so it creates a bit of extra interest, I think.

But also, part of that is that we’re still one of the better teams in this league and we’ve showed that to date in terms of results and where we are in the league.

Naturally, when one of the teams near the top comes to an away ground against a team that’s maybe mid-table, it creates a bit more interest and excitement as well.

We’ve had to handle that this season and I do think that people who’ve watched us week in and week out would say that we have got better at dealing with the challenges away from home.