KD: How is everything and how is the mood in the camp ahead of this weekend?
LJ: The mood is great, understandably after the form that we’ve been in. We’ve got players coming back from fitness which is good. Players are feeling good in their team style and also their individual performance.
It’s gone well, we’ve got to keep the hammer down in terms of certain elements of our performance and play that still needs to be improved and days like today on the training ground make it all worthwhile because during these covid spells we haven’t had an awful lot of chance to coach on the grass. It’s generally been: matches - recovery - analysis.
KD: You’ve won some matches handsomely but you’re also grinding out results as well, you seem to be finding different ways to win these games.
LJ: I think in this league it’s so important because there are so many variations of style. Some teams are extremely direct and you’ve got to cope physically with their power and their strength. Other teams play really good football which allows you to press them, other teams sit off with you which means you’ve got to break down their low block.
We’ve had to consider all styles really and some styles naturally cause you more problems than others, but generally, the boys have got it right and when it’s time to battle they battle; and when it’s time to play they’ve played.
KD: When you joined the club before Christmas I remember you saying that this will take time, it won’t happen overnight. Is what is going on right now exceeding your expectations, because it has turned around fairly quickly?
LJ: I think the players have been fantastic, they’ve been responsive and receptive to everything that me and Jamie McAllister have brought in. I think they’ve enjoyed it and we’ve certainly enjoyed them. I think that the trust is there and when the trust is there, the players can then go and bring out their own unique selling point and go and bring their best to the performance. If the trust and confidence is there and the fans are behind us, I think this club can be really powerful and even little things like the Papa John’s win sets us up to have more success.
KD: How important was winning that for momentum, had you lost at Wembley would it have been more difficult to recover from in the league.
LJ: I think we would’ve recovered. We’re very strong playing with our identity, I think sometimes we’ve won games and not quite fulfilled the perfect form and identity. Other times we’ve drawn games and played exceptionally well. I think it was a big game in terms of belief from the fans in terms of the players. The club had that hoodoo of 48 years without winning something and a few Wembley trips without winning there.
So I think it all builds the belief moving forward and the fact that we went and finished a very good performance with another one and beat Accrington I think shows the character of the players.
KD: Do you think it’s giving the players more taste for success and silverware?
LJ: I hope so, I think you’ve got to enjoy your wins and we couldn’t really like we wanted to, we couldn’t bounce off the fans. That was a bit frustrating but I think it leaves us more ambitious and more aggressive and wanting to see the job over the line in the league because we probably feel we might get at least some form of celebration with the fans.
KD: So much change at the club in the last few months, you’ve spoken glowingly about the new owner. What is he like to work with and how different is it working with someone I suppose younger than you?
LJ: It’s been good, I’ve been very lucky so far in my managerial career. I’ve had good owners and been able to build a very good rapport with those owners and he’s no different.
I think he might be 24 now, he’s kept his birthday quiet if he is. He’s pretty cool to be fair, to have that family background, he’s very curious in his questioning line which is good because I’m naturally like that as well. We have very deep conversations on a regular basis, obviously, we’ve been winning so I suppose the acid test is if you don’t win football matches then how those relationships continue and stay strong and that’s not just with me and Kyril, that’s with the sporting director, the secretary with everyone who works at the club and we have to really stick together.
If it’s all moving in the direction which it is right now it can be really powerful at a club like this.
KD: You’ve got a load of players out of contract in the summer which I guess means a busy period for you and everyone involved in the club - the one who stands out in all of that is Charlie Wyke. Have you opened any negotiations over talks?
LJ: To be honest my role is to win games and try and coach the boys to the best of my ability. Of course, you’re involved in the big picture discussions but in terms of day-to-day detail and dealing with the agents, I’ve been slightly more removed at this club than I have been at other clubs. I think for all the players in mind, this is their vehicle at the moment.
This is an opportunity for them A) to get success. B) To earn a new contact at a fantastic club and C) If there’s no contract here then to go and maximise their opportunities elsewhere. I think the boys understand that, that there is new ownership and a pandemic to come out the back of but we are one of the clubs driving forward and there’s not that many at the moment.
So you have to hope actually the boys are fighting to stay as well because they know if we were to get promoted then the first place you look is at home and the ones that have done extremely well to get you there.
KD: 27 goals for the season for Charlie Wyke, just how impressed have you been with him?
LJ: Yeah I’ve been majorly impressed, he’s a great lad. First and foremost you always look at the human being because it’s even better when a great fella is scoring goals, and he’s certainly a great fella. He’s passionate about his football, his family are all local and I think they’ve been involved heavily in his career as well. He’s doing extremely well at the moment, he’s got to keep going his performance even away from the goals has been very good. At times his clinical finishing has won us tight games.
KD: I know supporters are absent at the moment but can you sense though despite the fact they aren’t there at games, can you sense the excitement from them? They’ve been in the doldrums for a number of years now.
LJ: It’s hard for me, because I’m new in relative terms. Everyone I’ve bumped into has been fantastic and very welcoming. But it’s really a case of trying to deliver not concentrating too much on what’s going on on the outside.
I think fans and certainly Sunderland fans deserve to feel however they want to feel. If they want to feel excited because they feel this is the time.
If they want to feel let down, frustrated, then that’s ok. Because is their club effectively, all I’m here to do with my staff and the players is give them as much joy as possible week to week by playing in a good style, by being aggressive, by trying to win football matches as much as possible and hopefully if we do that enough, good things will come to us and they’ll be celebrate what they so desire.
KD: If you win your two games in hand you’ll go top of the table, you’ve put yourself in a really good position for this now.
LJ: We’ve got to focus on the performance element. I know coaches and managers will say stuff like that quite a lot but it really is true. The next game always becomes the most important one and I couldn’t tell you who we’ve got in three games time because there’s so much focus on the next two giving the fact they’re in such close proximity.
We have to do everything we can to turn the odds in our favour to get a result. It’s hard to win a football match and it’s hard to win a football match in a competitive league, particularly when you’re Sunderland and it’s a bit of a scalp for other clubs in this division.
So we’ve got to be vigilant to that and we can’t switch off, whether it be in training or in games. We’ll find out moments to relax and enjoy the team spirit and have a bit of fun but in terms of when we’re working, we’re working hard and when we’re performing we’ve got to maximise every opportunity to bring out our philosophy.