Jack Ross has been previewing Sunday’s Checkatrade Trophy final against Pompey. Let’s do this!
Is the final a reward for how you've treated the competition?
“I think it is. It was clear from the start that this competition provided us with a realistic opportunity to get to Wembley, which would mean a lot to the club and its fanbase. That’s been reflected in the demand for tickets. To get this far in the competition you’ve got to win a lot of games and deal with a lot of challenges to do that, so hard work and effort goes into it and it’s satisfying to get to this point. But the reality is, the only way we’ll truly enjoy it is if we get to Wembley and go and win it.”
Do you feel pressure to win it?
“Just the pressure that I feel every week with being involved with Sunderland. That expectation to win every week is there all the time and we’ve accepted that. What we’ve had to do as a group of staff and players is learn to deal with it and I think we’ve done well at that. So going into a game like Sunday I don’t think that pressure changes much. Every game we play at home, usually a fortnightly basis, is played in front of a lot of fans and the expectation from them is that we win games, and so we have to do that for them again on Sunday. The responsibility to bring success is first and foremost on my shoulders, but then the players are aware of it and to balance that out, the rewards and adulation they will get if they win on Sunday will be worth it.”
Were you surprised at being asked at the start of the season to play a strong team?
“There was no instruction to the type of team we should play, it was more stressing the importance of winning silverware, and also the financial benefit too. Given everything that’s happened to the club in recent years, you can’t ignore that. My job can’t be to simply look at only what happens on the football pitch. I have a duty to be interested in how the club is run and I have an awareness that it’s partly my responsibility to help that. Other than that, there’s never been any interference or suggestions from any of the owners on the teams we have picked. If you look back in this competition we’ve used a lot of players and that’s been adjusted according to the challenges we’ve faced. If we win on Sunday then the competition will have been perfect for us. We’ve had a number of youngsters who’ve played in it, other players have got game time if they haven’t been playing regularly and we’ve negotiated it really well throughout.”
Can this have an effect (good/bad) on what you're trying to achieve in the league this season?
“I think only in a sense that we have a long unbeaten run that we’re very proud of. The last time we lost was Portsmouth in December in all competitions. We take pride and want to keep that going as long as possible. But I certainly don’t think the result on Sunday will have any great bearing on how the next nine games go after it. We’ve been very keen to stress that of all our ten games left none of them are less or more important than any other. The reality is they’re all huge games and we want to continue our good run and momentum.”
Has the gap in fixtures helped to make the game feel more special?
“I think the enforced break was good because it allowed us, players and staff, to have a little break. We’d had a busy schedule prior to that and we’ve got an unbelievably busy, congested fixture list after the final. The truth for me at the moment is that it just feels like any other week. Our approach to the game is consistent with every other, we’re working hard, we’re always here and it’s just continuing things as we normally would. Of course, we’re also playing a team from our own league. I think the special aspect of this weekend will only hit home when we start to travel south on Saturday morning. I am looking forward to it, but I just always view it as my job to bring success to this club and Sunday is an opportunity to do that.”
Has their been a spring in the steps of the players?
“We’ve already created a culture here so that the level they train at is really good. What they do on the training pitch every day is a high level of intensity and really good. But there has been that extra bit of quality this week and you can see players are desperate to be involved. The good thing for me is that all season the players have been eager to play every game. While those who do miss out will be disappointed not to play, I would argue they’d be just as disappointed to miss out on Wednesday at Accrington. There’s a lot of players want to be in the team because this is a good club to play for when things are going well. I’ve really enjoyed training this week, it’s been good. The break was good but also the reality is that this could be the last week we get to do this, because looking at the schedule ahead, we’re not going to get much chance to train the rest of this season, so it’s been beneficial in that sense.”
Quite a contrast going from Wembley to Accrington...
“Yeah it is a contrast in stadiums, and also in the numbers in the crowd the difference is quite dramatic. But the preparation for that game has only started with me, whereas for the players it’s very much just about Sunday. and when that’s done that’s when we look at Wednesday. But as I’ve said. it’s certainly no less important.”
How would this compare to your St Mirren success?
“As a player or a coach, you grow to learn that the opportunity to win silverware and be part of the history of a club doesn’t come around that often unless you’re at a very, very good level. There are players and coaches who spend a number of years at a really good level and don’t win anything. That’s not a slight on their ability, it’s just a fact that the chances don’t come around that often. So we’ve got a chance on Sunday to win a trophy and I don’t care what the title is before that, it still means something. You might get ten chances to win something in your career or you might only get one, so you’ve got to make the most of that opportunity on Sunday.”
Cattermole credits you with why he's enjoying football again...
“I think with Lee, and every player in the squad that I was left, I made the decision to take them as I found them, and most of my judgement was going to be based on what I saw on the training pitch. The thing about Lee is he trains properly every single day. People don’t see that aspect that I get to every day. So right from the off we got off to a good start and built a relationship and it’s easy to see how much he cares. Like others who had been here before this season, he acknowledged the responsibility of relegations, but he was determined to help get the club back up again. I was encouraged by their responses to what we introduced at the club, but even then the true test is going to be what they actually produce on the pitch and Lee has enjoyed a terrific season. He’s probably grabbed more headlines for his goalscoring turn as well, but I’m delighted for him because I think he would have been incredibly disappointed if his time at the club came to an end following the back of two successive relegations. This season we’ve given ourselves a good chance of success and I think he’s enjoying every minute of it.”
Are there any injury concerns?
“Obviously Duncan Watmore will likely miss the rest of the season. Chris Maguire is making good progress from his leg break but Sunday will come too soon for him. Will (Grigg) should be okay. He did some work today with the staff building his strength. He didn’t train properly but should train over the next couple of days. The only other issue is Adam Matthews who came off in our last match. He’s still a doubt for Sunday at this stage and will have to be assessed closer to the game. Other than that, we’re all fit and healthy.”
Portsmouth will be tough opponents
“They’ve had a really good season and both us and them have had consistent results throughout the season. But we’ve had to do that because when you look at how strong Barnsley and Luton have been, the pace they’ve set has meant we’ve had to keep pace. I think those four sides, including ourselves, are very good sides. We’re all there on merit and you can’t put together the runs we’ve had this season without being good players and good staff. It’s as tough a final as it could be for us, but I’m sure they will be saying the same about us. We talked about how tough it is overall to win this competition, and for us to win it that final hurdle is a very tough one as well.”
Winning this would just be a bonus, but it's still one hell of a bonus isn't it?
“Yeah I would never shy away from saying that at the end of the season, promotion is the thing above all we want to achieve. But when you get to the end of any competition and you’re still in it and with a chance to win silverware, then the realities of what that means becomes more apparent. There’s no point working as hard as we have to get to the final, with the knock on effect of not having a league game this weekend and stuff, and then not going and winning it. That would hurt and it would be sore and it would be wasteful. There’s so many motivating factors to win on Sunday, the obvious ones people will be aware of, but there’s so many more than just the obvious ones as well. With where the club’s been, it clearly means a lot.”
This can be a big reward for the fans can't it?
“Yeah. There’s been a lot of loyalty and a lot of commitment shown by them this season, and a lot of that was shown before a ball was kicked when things were relatively unknown because of all the changes going on at the club. Hopefully at times in the league we’ve rewarded that. But this is a good chance to give them that obvious reward with the weekend away, and the next step for us is to deliver them that trophy. I know they will go and enjoy the occasion, but they’ll only really enjoy it if we win. The goal for us is that when the full-time whistle goes they’re staying in the stadium because they’re celebrating us winning the trophy. If we can do that it’s a starting point. It by no means makes up completely for the disappointments of previous years, but it is a starting point.”