A few weeks ago I was on the Roker Rapport Podcast, and I said Jack Ross had ten games to change my mind; to show us something. I also said we could win our next five (obviously in hope more than expectation) and the talk of if he should stay or go would be arbitrary.
Well, Jacky lad, you’ve shown me up. In front of my new mates, too - cheers.
I’m always a believer in giving credit where its due - we’re all too quick to complain when its the other way round and I certainly think Ross is due some praise after the last few weeks.
Post-Ipswich it was doom, gloom and everything in between. Maybe the reaction was a bit knee-jerk; for some the scars of last season were still there to see, others were just plain sick, with a few hopeless optimists sprinkled among us.
The board had a decision to make: stay calm, trust the process, or flip the script and start again whilst we still had time. They held firm, with the early signs showing that it may have been smart to sit it out and wait for the storm to pass.
It wasn't that long ago that Ross was giving spikey interviews. After beating Accrington Stanley away after a glorious return to a back four, Ross hit out at his critics - “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” were his words, a kick out of such after his first win of the season. As a man who claimed he never feared the sack, they certainly signalled there was pressure mounting. It wasnt until later in the week he eventually clarified his statement, in his typical, more assured manner.
Everything Ross says seems to have been thought through. It was, however, merely the cup, and tougher challenges lay ahead when Portsmouth came to the Stadium of Light - and what came was a turgid twenty minutes. Two minutes later, 1-0 down. Same old, same old.
What happened next though caught us all out - twenty minutes minutes later and two goals to the good, Sunderland started to dominate. We had begged for a change and it rightly came. Sunderland came out strong and assured in the second half with a higher press, a calmness on the ball, looking the most likely to score again. This was and is a completely different Sunderland from what we had so quickly became accustomed to. Jack Ross had channeled his St Mirren spirit. Attack, attack, attack. Pompey were dusted - onto Rochdale.
Again, the attacking intent was there, an early (by Sunderland standards) lead was rapidly cancelled out before Virgil Van Wyke saved the day. Not a classic, but an important result.
What interested me though wasn't how solid we looked at the back, but how more threatening we began to look. With the wins criticism didn't disappear, and a real concern that was growing was a lack of shots over the few games prior - this time, though, the numbers started to increase.
Rumble on Wimbledon, then. Now don’t get me wrong - Wimbledon are relegation fodder, but for once Sunderland dominated. The way we flew out of the traps, taking a team that were there for the taking instead of letting them settle; Jack Ross learning from last season’s mistakes. A barrage of shots, long spells of possession and what felt like 1000 passes - our xG was even at a dizzying 2.9. With his back to the wall, Ross threw out his pre-season plans and instead created the side we’ve been longing for for months.
I’m not going to go too much into Burnley because I didn't see it. We rode our luck early doors but we gave as much as we got. What does stand out though is the fire in this side right now - almost every player has directcompetition for their place - smart recruitment some may say.
The longer point, though, is this - Jack Ross deserves credit for how he has started this season. He rode out a rocky patch, he was bold enough to admit he was wrong. Yes, he kicked back, yes he snapped at times, but that’s what you want in a manager - someone who is hungry, someone who cares. To shun his system wasn't all that brave, more necessary, but he still had to do it - he didnt bury his head in the sand.
More importantly, Ross has addressed some key issues - some created this season, some carried from last. His dealing of players like Hume, Dobson and Wyke has been an example of great man-management. Ross has taken his criticisms on board, he’s worked, he’s improved and whilst there’s still plenty that can still go wrong this season I’m finding comfort in the notion that we have, for once, a manager who is willing to learn and adapt and not live off a reputation earned long ago in a place that wasn't called Sunderland.