The haunting statistic that Sunderland have not scored twice in a league match since Bristol Rovers came to Wearside mid-December, and were beaten 2-1, will be a source of great frustration for the Scot. He has been discussing pressure and how players need to handle and embrace playing for, and in front of, such a passionate fan base, and the rewards that can of course bring.
Previewing tonight's game, Ross said;
“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.”
Despite his side still searching for their first win of 2019, Accrington manager John Coleman is attempting to take the pressure off his players for tonight’s League One clash. As we’ve seen many a manager this season, Coleman is treating the game as just another fixture.
“They’re a big club who not so long ago were in the Premiership, but they’re not the only club who are plying their trade at this level, or indeed lower, who have played there.
“People will make a lot of it as the archetypal, David v Goliath, big club/small club story, but we just think its two teams playing each other in a league game.
“Obviously it’s a big stadium and you’d expect your players to respond to the fact that they’re playing in front of a big crowd, and appearing on TV, but when you boil it down its still 11 v 11 and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
He’s also well aware that his side need to find a way of scoring goals and doesn’t want that pressure to be at the forefront of his squads minds, encouraging them to relax and play their game.
“My job is to try and take the pressure off the players. If we start beating ourselves up over not scoring it becomes the main focus of what you do. People tense up and you end up almost making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“We’ve got to try and put it to the back of our minds, try and relax more on the pitch and try to enjoy the game for what it is. We’ve got to try and enjoy being footballers and playing football.
“If you’re all tensed up then you don’t really enjoy things, so it’s a balance between relaxing the players but not making them give up caring. We’ve got to try and take the pressure off them while still making them realise the enormity of trying to win games.
“We’ve worked hard this week on various things, not just finishing, as it’s about attention to detail. Getting the players to think more about their game, and we’re trying to get back to enjoying it a bit more.
“With anything you do in life, if you enjoy it, you’re going to do it better.”
What could go down?
Accrington have been very static in both attack and defence of late. It creates a strange impression of games almost passing them by as the team does not seem to be performing as a cohesive unit.
Sunderland must look to let Leadbitter dictate play from the middle and feed some of our more dangerous players in the final third. Whoever plays in front of the holding midfielder has a massive job and fans would love to see Luke O’Nien given a crack in the midfield. He’s the only central midfielder that Ross possesses that runs beyond the striker, giving an extra option in and around the box which seems to be what Sunderland have been missing recently. Often our build-up play is way too slow to trouble teams, giving them plenty of chances to stack two banks of four defenders in front of their goal, making it difficult for the Black Cats to break them down. O’Nien flying past the likes of Grigg, McGeady, Gooch or Morgan would provide another player who can score goals to trouble defences.
I suspect Jack Ross will have lit a fire under his payers in the last few days and I expect a big reaction compared with the lethargic displays of the last few games. Morgan should start and Wyke may get further opportunities to develop a partnership with Grigg, something which looked possible during the second half against Blackpool. If they can get back to playing fast, passing football where the player on the ball has plenty of options and movement in front, the three points should be secured to put a little more pressure on the top 3.
Earlier in the season the movement of McGeady, Gooch, Maguire and Maja bamboozled defences as they could never settle, constantly having to adapt and move to keep up with our attacking quartet. Sunderland arguably have a squad better equipped to do this more effectively since the January window proved fruitful, but only tonight will tell the difference between what is possible and what it pure hope and speculation.
I always look at these predictions with rose tinted glasses, but let’s be honest, Sunderland need a big result tonight. It would go a long way to setting the fan bases nerves and would kick start some momentum as the final third of the season approaches. I’m going for a 3-0 home win with Grigg and Morgan to get on the score sheet.
Ha-way the lads!