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Press Conference: Jack Ross on Sunderland’s injuries & whether crowd pressure is taking its toll

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Jack Ross met the media today ahead of the Accrington game, answering questions on everything from Watmore’s fitness to the various pressures facing Sunderland as we go through a tough spell of form.

Sunderland AFC

On Tuesday night putting pressure on the next two games...

No, I’ve given this answer consistently. The pressure is on us in every single game, it’s been there from the first game of the season and it hasn’t changed.

I don’t think the pressure increases or decreases depending on the previous result or form, it’s just ever-present being involved at Sunderland.

It’s just embracing it and ensuring that you try and maintain the desire to get a positive result.

Sunderland AFC

On Luton and Barnsley showing no signs of slowing down...

I’ve always worked very much on the basis that the only thing we can affect is our own results. As individual players, they can only ever affect their own performance and if you affect it positively and effectively, then it’s good.

When you’re in a league of 24 teams, you can only affect your own results. So, I’ve never really got caught up too much in what other teams are doing.

It’s very obvious to say that we need to turn more draws into wins to ensure we keep pace with them, but there’s certainly enough ability to do that and there’s enough good results through the course of the season to suggest that could be the case.

Luton Town v Sheffield Wednesday - FA Cup Third Round Replay Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

On having a big squad to work with...

It’s quite an unusual week to play Saturday, Tuesday and Friday. It’s a short time scale to fit three fixtures in, so naturally you have one or two fitness concerns and you look at how players have lasted through those games.

So, that has an influence on your decision making as well. The group is as big as it’s been all season, it’s as healthy as it’s been as well. That only strengthens the competition for places, but my challenge all the time is to find the right combination that will produce a positive result.

As a football manager, whether you’re successful or not, that is judged by the end result.

Sunderland AFC

On tweaking the forward players to see what works...

Certainly, for me, Tuesday evening was a lot more pleasing than in recent weeks because of the number of opportunities we created and the length of time we spent in that final third in and around Blackpool’s box.

We couldn’t have done an awful lot more in that sense and then it’s about that ruthlessness of taking advantage of those opportunities when they come along.

So, there was a lot to be much more encouraged about. We’ve been frustrated collectively in the fact that in recent weeks we hadn’t played fluently, we hadn’t created an awful lot.

There was a difference in that on Tuesday night and it’s about carrying that into tomorrow evening.

Sunderland AFC

On the difficulties of playing Blackpool...

We spoke about the ones we face that are different to other clubs and you mentioned about what Blackpool deal with off the pace, Terry and his staff. So, it’s testament to their abilities for the season they’ve had to date.

You’re right to point out that they’re a team on the outskirts of the playoffs that hadn’t lost a league game since we beat them on New Year’s Day. But, as often happens, that gets thrown out of the window and we’re judged solely on whether or not we won the game.

I’ve said along, that’s fine, it just goes with the territory, but sometimes there has to be a balance to it as well. So, it wasn’t just the fact that we got a point from the game, we wanted to win it and I think it was the manner of the performance.

Nobody could say that we didn’t dominate large parts of that game. I think I said post-match, with the exception of the 15-minute spell between the goal and half-time, I thought we were good and played majority of the game in their half.

Sunderland AFC

On the abandoned game against Accrington...

That game was probably one for both sides where you couldn’t take much from it in terms of the conditions being so poor and obviously, deteriorated as the game went on.

So, there’s not a huge amount that we can learn from that fixture and as often happens in this league, there’s tweaks in personnel and shape as the season goes on. It happens regularly with opponents.

So, the game is taken very much on its own merit, irrespective of that game a couple of months ago.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On potentially putting pressure on the top 2...

There’s a very obvious psychological incentive for us to win on Friday and where it would take us. Then you can enjoy Saturday afternoon looking at other results coming in, knowing that you’ve done your part for that round of fixtures.

That is the one advantage with playing the evening before everyone else does and it’s up to us to make sure that come Saturday afternoon we’re in that position.

Sunderland AFC

On the scale of the game for Accrington...

Again, I’m always consumed about our preparations and how we approach games. Maybe at times I’m not aware enough of the significance of some of the teams that have come to the stadium this year and where we have been in very recent times and everything that goes with this club, the infrastructure and the fan base etc.

So, you’re right to point out that for a club that had to re-invent itself and come again to get through the leagues and then get to a fixture like tomorrow evening, is huge for them.

In the nicest possible way, it’s irrelevant to us. It’s about us going out and trying to produce a winning performance.

Accrington Stanley v Derby County - FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

On Duncan Watmore...

He won’t be involved tomorrow night, which is a blow for us because his performance was so positive. The reality of his recovery is that it’s not possible for him to play two games in quick succession as that.

Not that that would be the case for him indefinitely. It is the case when you’re recovering from an ACL injury, but when you’ve had two, the recovery period between games needs to be longer.

He’ll be back available for the Gillingham game next Tuesday, but he’s not available for us tomorrow evening.

Sunderland AFC

On the strength and depth of the squad...

I do believe that we have strengthened the group, in terms of the quality we have within it and the number of options we have available to us.

It’s just then, as always, hoping that when those players get the opportunity, they take them. Duncan was a good example of that the other evening, he hadn’t started a game since Portsmouth, so he started and his performance level reflected somebody that every time they’re available to start and they get the opportunity to start, then they’re going to perform like that.

So, that’s all you can hope for. Whoever gets their opportunity tomorrow evening, with some of the changes we’ll have to make, then you just look for the same type of performance from them.

Sunderland AFC

Are nerves in the crowd affecting home performances?

I think everybody is aware of it, I think it goes with the territory of playing for a big club, having a big fan base and having big expectations.

There’re different ways of doing that. You can play for a club that doesn’t have all those and you don’t have to deal with it, but equally, you don’t get the rewards when things are going well.

So, we score in the stadium or if we’re winning games, that support that gets behind us should supersede the other side of it.

You’ve got to be broad-shouldered to deal with it. Manager, staff, players. That’s not by any means a criticism of supporters, it’s just the reality because they’re desperate for us to do well.

Sometimes that thirst for success or thirst for wins can be displayed in a frustrating manner, but that’s just life, that’s what happens, it’s not always a negative.

So, I think you saw both sides of it the other night because I think between the goal and half-time, we definitely didn’t deal with it particularly well. There were some younger players in the squad who maybe hadn’t seen that before, so half-time probably came at a good time for us.

The really pleasing thing for me was, you saw a group of players that took that on, and we’re prepared to say I’m going to be broad-shouldered enough to deal with the expectation in turning the game round. Although they didn’t manage to turn it around completely, they did partly and they also gave a performance that they couldn’t really have done any more to do so.

Sunderland AFC

On everyone pulling in the right direction...

It’s a very obvious thing to say. Again, I mentioned about only being concerned about our own performances and results because it’s the only thing I can affect.

So, again, the only thing I can control to a degree is our preparation, the work we do, the unseen work we do and how the players are ready to go on a match day. Then there’s an element that becomes a little bit uncontrollable for me in terms of on the pitch, but I can still affect it to a degree.

Everything else, I can’t affect it. I can influence it, in terms of the results we get. So, that’s what you seek to do. The other stuff, there’s no point in getting too up-tight about it because you can’t do anything about it.

I’ve always worked that way, I’ve learned to work in that way, that’s maybe a better description of it. I think it’s a good place to get to because then you focus your energy on the things you can control and affect, and those things are ultimately the things that will determine whether or not you’re good or bad at what you do.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On the attack improving...

I was really pleased. Again, people will always develop an opinion for different reasons and a lot of people just look at the end result. There’s nothing wrong with that because ultimately, this is very much a results business that we operate in.

We’ve had similar results recently, but we’ve felt very differently about them. So, the frustration the other night was more about not capitalising on the performance and a lot of what we did in forward areas was so much better than we’ve done in recent weeks.

That was hopefully the end result of the work we’ve been continuing to do. I’ve mentioned often enough, you don’t always see it instantaneously. We’ve seen it on Tuesday, but the next challenge is to do it again on Friday.

There’s no point just doing it once in the three or four games, we’ve got to make sure that it becomes the norm for us again. If we do play in that type of manner, in an attacking sense, then I do believe that we’ll win more games than we won’t.

I think you saw from the other night that the intensity about our play, for large spells it was difficult for Blackpool to get out.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On any injuries...

No, we’ve got a couple of minor issues that we have to continue to assess over the course of today and tomorrow morning, just naturally from having games so close together.

We’ll make a decision on them, but nothing else of significance.