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Press Conference: Sunderland manager Jack Ross on Sunderland v Newcastle & Maja contract latest

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Sunderland manager Jack Ross met the press ahead of tomorrow’s Checkatrade Trophy with Newcastle United U21s, and gave updates on injuries, Josh Maja’s contract situation and more.

Jack Ross met the media today
Sunderland AFC

On team news...

We have no fresh injuries. We were obviously quite stretched squad-wise on Saturday, we only had fifteen fit outfield senior players.

So, we’re more or less the same.

I think when you consider the schedule we’ve had recently, the importance of the match we played on Saturday and the importance of the league we have this following Saturday, it will have an influence on the team we’ll select for the game as well.

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

On prioritising the Luton game...

I think we’ve shown a consistency in our approach to the Checkatrade Trophy games.

We’ve tried to be respectful to the competition and we’re obviously restricted in some of the changes we can make with the criteria around the competition.

But in each and every game, we’ve selected a team based on the league fixtures we’ve had around it and what we’ve had available, and that will be the same for us tomorrow evening.

We want to continue to progress in the tournament, but the game that you’ve mentioned that we have upcoming on Saturday is very obviously important for us.

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

How big is the opportunity in the Checkatrade Trophy?

I think once you progress from the group and you get to the knockout stages, you start to understand that you’re only a handful of games away from being at Wembley for a cup final.

It is appealing and naturally, there’s a lot of people that would get excited about it because of the size of the support we would take to a cup final.

I’ve never shied away from the fact that from the start of the season or even now, it’s not our absolute priority or our ultimate ambition.

But given the progress we’ve made in the tournament, we want to continue to go as far as we can and ideally, get to the final and win it.

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

On the added edge of playing Newcastle...

I suppose it’s a very unusual set of circumstances.

If I’m honest, it’s far from ideal for us. I mean that because we’re involved in this competition as a first-team because of what’s happened in the last couple of years.

One of the ambitions, goals or targets if you like for me coming here as manager is to lead this club into a derby match, hopefully at the top level.

That’s not what tomorrow night is, it’s a Checkatrade trophy match and that’s really how we’re looking at it.

Our preparations have been the same and our approach to the game will be the same as it has been when it was Stoke U21’s or whether it was Morecambe, Carlisle or Notts County or whoever it was.

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How pleased have you been with the team in this competition?

It’s been encouraging for us as a whole club because we’ve had no real consistent selections through these matches.

So, if you look at the variance in line-ups throughout all of our Checkatrade games, there has been differences in it.

I think Morecambe for example, we had a large number of Under 23’s who made their debuts for the club and we still won the game.

So, I think every time you ask members of your squad who haven’t had much game time or your younger ones to be involved and they take that opportunity, it’s pleasing.

That record as you said, in terms of goals conceded, but the fact that we’ve progressed in the tournament shows that they’ve done that.

Again, tomorrow night, I’ll offer that opportunity to some of them as well.

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On Josh Maja being sold or kept in January...

I think what I said post-match on Saturday remains the case and I’ve been fairly consistent in my communication with regards to it.

I don’t envisage anything changing and certainly, the communication that I’ve had with Stewart as of today is that we are where we were.

He’ll continue to be a part of my team and my squad for as long as he continues to train the way he does and perform the way he has done in matches.

I pointed out after the game that there is a difference between asking to leave a club and at a moment in time, not taking up the option of signing an extension to your contract.

So, the latter is what he’s done, it’s not the former, which means that the situation is easier for me.

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Is it difficult for a player dealing with an agent and a club?

Only the individual player himself could answer that, in terms of how they feel about it.

You’ll have a variance again in terms of how uptight players get upon it and how much they worry about external factors.

I do think that sometimes we can overlook the fact that each individual is perfectly entitled to make a choice about their own life, whether it be career or from a personal point of view.

I always try to detach myself from the personal element to it.

It’s an industry we work in that happens to be played out very much in the public eye and also, a lot of emotion involved in it. So, it has to be tempered with the fact that people will make choices that they believe are right for them.

Whether I agree with them or whether other people agree with them, that’s really an irrelevance.

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

On Maja developing his career at Sunderland...

It sounds very obvious that I would say that, but I do think we have been good for him.

I think he’s a talented footballer and how he approaches the game and how he works at his game is all down to him.

But I do think that since my staff and I have come to the club, along with those that have remained at the club, we’ve been good for him as well.

We gave him an opportunity at this club to continue his pathway into senior football when it didn’t quite work out for him further south.

This season has been a platform for him to show that he can handle first-team football, which he’s taken, to his credit.

But there’s always two sides to that as well and I would believe that he would continue to improve and get better in this environment because I think we’ve shown that in this case to date.

Gillingham v Sunderland Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

On the fans being starved of a Tyne-Wear derby...

That’s a disappointment from us because that’s a consequence of us having suffered relegations.

Newcastle have obviously retained their place in the top league in that period and so, that’s when the disappointment or soreness of that becomes more acute, when a fixture like this comes around.

As I mentioned, the drive for me is to take the club back to playing in these fixtures, properly. I mean that in the most respectful manner because this isn’t the derby or a derby that is seen as the one that everybody would want it to be.

If anything, it just gives us the extra motivation to make sure that hopefully in future, I get the chance to manage a Sunderland team in this derby and it’s done on a league footing and we both find ourselves, ideally in the top league.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

On Duncan Watmore gaining more game time...

We’re always keeping a close eye on minutes that players are accumulating, full stop. Particularly over this period, when it becomes even more important.

Believe it or not, but you can sometimes forget how often, how little or in the middle players have played because you get caught up in the most recent match and the one after it.

So, our team selection tomorrow is based a lot on players that could do with a topping up of minutes and Duncan certainly falls into that category.

The opportunity to get game time in a competitive fixture, out with the higher intensity of a league match, is nice to be honest and it’s a bonus for us.

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On the players staying in control tomorrow night...

In all honesty, we haven’t spoken a huge amount about the game.

We have done in terms of our preparation for Newcastle U21’s as a team, but the actual occasion itself, not really.

As I mentioned, and I’m not trying to play it down in any way, genuinely for me, it’s just another Checkatrade Trophy match.

Just because it falls in an unbelievably busy schedule for us, it falls in the middle of two really important league games, tough league games as well.

If anything, that helps because I think everybody at the club is looking at it that way, players included. They’ve treated every Checkatrade game importantly and rightly, the people that have been involved.

But no differently, and that will be the case tomorrow for them.

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On not being directly involved with Maja’s situation...

I was going to say, if you’d seen how often my phone rang or beeped on Friday then believe me, that’s not the case. Management has changed to an extent, in terms of the involvement in certain aspects of what goes on.

I’m sure all managers would agree that it does help you, in some parts of the job.

But I care about my players and I’m close to them. So, on the flip side of that maybe not because I’ve formed a close relationship with Josh in a short period of time.

I genuinely care about him and how he progresses his career and I would love that to be with us.

The great thing is, we’ve been consistent, I certainly have from a management side in terms of how we’ve treated him and how we’ve viewed the situation, and I think that’s helped Josh.

Those that were at the game on Saturday will have seen a performance that was by no means affected by anything that had gone on the day before.

That’s encouraging not only for me, but for him as a young player as well.

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On Maja’s professionalism despite the uncertainty of his future...

I didn’t have any reason to think he wouldn’t, but again, you don’t know for certain until you see a player in that situation.

Even on Friday, I had another chat with him on Friday evening and if I’d felt as if the situation had affected him in any way negatively, then we wouldn’t have started him on Saturday.

I had no concerns about him in that respect.

He’s a really honest young man and he’s very serious about his football as well. So, he’s just found himself in a situation that develops in football because of the scrutiny we’re under nowadays on a 24/7 basis.

For him, it’s another learning experience and I would say irrespective of how the situation pans out, it will be a benefit to him for the rest of his career.

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On building on the away point at Charlton...

I did say post-match as well, we’re in a consistently unusual situation in this league with the perception of what we should do in this league and I think what we’ve done to date has been good.

It’s a reminder to the players of that. There’s room for improvement, naturally. Not just where we are positionally, but in some aspects of the game. But they have been good, and they should have credit for that, they should be given credit. To rebuild the club in the way they have done in a short period of time is very good.

It’s just accentuating that positive because it’s not deflecting away from the things we can do better because I’ll openly always say that we need to continue to try and improve. But we’ve given ourselves a platform at the midway point of the season, for success. I’ve asked the players to enjoy the challenge in the next four or five months.

There’s a pressure playing for this club every day, there’s a pressure trying to achieve something. But I’ve emphasised that the pressure of trying to achieve something is a lot more enjoyable than the pressure of trying to avoid failure and a lot of us have been through that. It’s getting them to embrace it and I think starting on Saturday, they’ll do that.

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