The last couple of games have seen questions resurface with regard to Sunderland’s style and tactics. Certain choices, such as the determination to continue playing with a lone, isolated striker or the unflinching love of the 4-2-3-1 formation, have to some extent helped to restrict the fluidity of Sunderland as an attacking side.
It’s only right that fans have - thus far - refrained from jumping on the manager’s back, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to see some of Ross’ tactical decisions being justified.
Away to Wycombe last weekend, Sunderland simply couldn’t get hold of the game, and reverted to bland, direct football. Then, the 0-0 draw at Barnsley raised some questions as to the way Ross sets us up his side. The decision to go so long between making substitutions only to then give Kazaiah Sterling, a player arguably brought in to be an impact sub, just minutes at the end was tough to stomach for some fans.
A further point would be the midfield three of Cattermole, Power and Leadbitter. Whilst all of them have positive attributes to offer, the trio seem to be too similar players to have in the midfield at once. Our lack of goals and even shots on target must surely be a cause for concern for Ross, and it should mean that once George Honeyman has returned from his ban we won’t see this three together in the middle for a while.
Fans make a football club; therefore, all opinions are welcome and necessary if we are to continue the community feel we’ve cultivated this season. If truth be told, it’s not hard to see why sections of the fanbase have issues with the way Ross sets out his side.
However, despite the concerns of fans, Ross’ men have been doing relatively well on the pitch. We currently sit in third place with only two defeats in the league, a game in hand over second place, and four points away from overtaking them.
Ross’ questionable selection choices have reared their head throughout the season, and in previous years they may have been scrutinised a lot more thoroughly by Sunderland fans. However, this season has seen a more patient approach adopted by supporters.
The complete overhaul from top to bottom at the club over the summer was always going to take time to take root - and patience has been required by everyone involved. Jack Ross is still raw to the world of management; this campaign is only the Scotsman’s second full season as a manager. Arguably his previous experience with St Mirren in the Scottish Championship was of lower calibre than the English third tier. He is still very much finding his feet in the managerial world, and despite Sunderland faltering of late he has constructed a side which is hard to beat - even if it is a team which also struggles to win as much as a side chasing promotion should.
Ultimately, Ross is a manager who has a lot of potential and regardless of the critics, he’s doing a relatively good job in his first season in English football.
For this reason and the other addressed in this article, it is vital that Sunderland fans as a collective stick behind Ross, encouraging him and his side as they continue to grow and develop.
That’s not to say that constructive criticism should be abandoned, but looking at our current situation we have ten league games remaining - as well as a Wembley cup final to look forward to - and automatic promotion still within reach. Waiting until the end of the season is to go through Ross’ performances with a fine-tooth comb seems the most logical course of action.
We’re entering the world of ‘Squeaky bum time’ at Sunderland and complete unity, which has been visible throughout the season, is needed now more than ever.