Jack Ross is confident the lads will put their Wembley woes behind them as the team travels to Accrington Stanley. There are nine huge games to go this season Sunderland play their first game in hand against Stanley on Wednesday. Ross has a few injuries to deal with as Will Grigg was forced off with a problem and is a doubt for tomorrow’s game.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Ross said: "It's a combination between the ankle and general fitness because, as I commented post-match, he's hardly training at the moment. That isn't ideal for any player, so we have to try and nurse him through both training and games. Every time he does play a game and get through minutes hopefully that does strengthen his ability to play games at the end of the season. We have to look after him properly because, even in Sunday's squad, we only had the two out-and-out strikers in the squad because Kaz Sterling was ineligible. Having Kaz back tomorrow night strengthens our options as well."
Time will tell if Grigg will make the squad tomorrow but there are some players who will be out of tomorrow’s game. "Adam Matthews remains out and obviously didn't make Sunday. He actually had a recurrence of his hamstring injury on Friday. We actually thought he was going to be fit for Sunday but then had a recurrence in training. Duncan [Watmore] and Chris [Maguire] remain out and Donald Love is still working his way back towards fitness. We have doubts over a few more, but we'll allow ourselves another 24 hours to assess them. He tried to push for the final, we discovered quickly he was nowhere near that. Potentially for the Coventry game. The rest of this week, I would hope that would be a target he has in mind as well."
Away from the injuries, Ross discussed the mentality of the squad with a focus on Lee Cattermole’s mental state following the penalty miss. “Lee’s disappointment was the same as other players as they put so much effort in to the game and to lose it in that environment and circumstances is sort. I said afterwards he’s had that career because he is a strong character and has a lot of pride in what he does. The pain isn’t easy to go away, but for players it’s a job and the next part of their job is tomorrow evening and to try and win the game. We have a quick turnaround after the game and is it a good thing or a bad thing? Players may think it’s good as we play tomorrow rather than having to wait until the weekend. They can get back out on the pitch tomorrow and that’s their focus and the importance of winning the game in terms of the ultimate aim of promotion – winning tomorrow and the next time takes us all closer to the aim.”
Despite several injuries to the team the return of Denver Hume has proved to be a plus for Jack Ross. “Terrific for him to experience that at such a young age, his performance level was really good. I didn't expect anything different from him this season. His form has been a big bonus for us this season. He was close to starting."
Sunderland’s game against Stanley was abandoned late on due to the awful weather conditions and Ross knows how tough a game it will be. “We have been to Accrington Stanley already this season, which helps us prepare. They have proven to be difficult opponents for us. Our preparation is the same. The importance of us winning it is paramount."
Jack Ross didn’t regret his choice of penalty takers after Sunderland’s penalty heartbreak against Portsmouth at Wembley. Sunderland suffered a 5-4 defeat in the penalty shootout as Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch, Max Power and Luke O’Nien all scored their penalties, but Lee Cattermole’s spot kick was saved by Portsmouth keeper Craig MacGillivray. Portsmouth tucked away all five of their penalties as they won the Checkatrade Trophy. Many fans asked the question why striker Charlie Wyke and captain George Honeyman didn’t step up and take one.
Ross said: "I understand that point, and it would have concerned me as a manager if some of the five weren't equipped to take a penalty and score it but those first five were the ones who wanted to take penalties and I had no qualms about that, or doubts in my mind that they go and score. But, saying that, in a shootout ultimately someone will miss at some stage. I was comfortable with those that wanted to take penalties. We'd done a lot of work on penalties in training so I knew from the quality of the penalties in training who would take them. I knew Luke O'Nien would score. I believed that everyone who went up in that first five would score because I had seen them do it in the week. If Will Grigg and Grant Leadbitter had still been on the pitch there would have been a fight to whittle it down to five [takers] because Aiden was always going to want one, same for Lynden, and Max."
The Sunderland boss has backed Lee Cattermole to bounce back and help the team reach the ultimate goal and seal promotion next month. "I thought about that afterwards, if it had been another player who had missed how it might have impacted upon them. But in all honesty, I don't think I would have been too worried about any of them because over the course of the season everyone who has played for this club has proved to be quite resilient. I haven't really spoken much about it to Lee because I know how much it hurt him - and it did hurt him. But if you are involved in this industry, life is full of ups and downs and you have to have an inner resilience - in fact, you have to be resilient in any walk of life. Lee is certainly that. He has had enough challenges in his career, people have written him off at various times, people have had a low opinion of him, but he has dealt with all that OK. He is just determined to have a successful season with us, and you can see that from how he is on the park."