Strength In Depth

Jack Ross has highlighted our squad depth as a major factor in our victory over Shrewsbury on Saturday. “The game’s changed,” said Ross. “It’s squads that win you leagues. I speak about it a lot, but you need the evidence to back it up. It wasn’t just the players who came on and made an obvious contribution towards winning the game that were important - the guys who came off the pitch still made a contribution because they helped us get to 0-0 after 55, 60 minutes away from home. The reaction (when players haven’t been starting) has always been good, and it goes back to the communication with them to make sure we keep them abreast of where they’re at. George (Honeyman), Lynden and Luke - I never had any doubts about any of them because they’re all terrific professionals. We’ve got a lot of them in the squad, and that’s healthy as well.”

Sunderland slowly over came Shrewsbury’s aerial threat and Ross singled out the performances of Flanagan and Baldwin. “The centre-halves are interesting ones because I don’t think either of them are traditional League One centre-halves,” said Ross. “We have to maximise what they’re good at and improve the areas where they have weaknesses. The two of them are good footballers and have a good understanding of the game. They’re both young as well, so I’ve accepted them making mistakes here and there because I believe they’ll keep improving and they’ve got a real hunger to get better. With Tom, it’s been an adjustment because a lot of the time he’s played as a central defender it was in a back three. For me as a manager, and for the staff, when you’ve got players who have an appetite to get better and improve, it makes your job easier.”

Meanwhile, Luke O'Nien is still buzzing after coming on as sub and getting the goal that guaranteed us the win. “There’s always going to be an element of frustration when you’re not playing, that goes for anyone,” he said. “Everyone wants to play every minute, but the opportunity I’ve got here is huge. I come in every day and work as hard as I can. Even if I’m not in the team, I’m trying to push the boys that are playing. It’s important everyone’s doing that. I’ve still got loads to learn, I’ve played all my games in League Two and it’s a step up. This club is huge, and it takes time to adapt. The minute I stop learning, I’d get more frustrated, but I’m learning every day and that’s the most important thing. The gaffer is always talking to me, and the rest of the lads too. Catts (Lee Cattermole) leads by example, he’s always giving me advice around the training field and it’s only helping me. I’d like to have more minutes, but everyone would say that. I’m going to carry on working hard, and if I get a minute, I’ll work my socks off for a minute. I just want to get on the pitch, but if not, I’ll be pushing the boys who are playing week in, week out. Every day is an education. I managed to put the ball in the net, but it was Goochy (fellow substitute Lynden Gooch) who put me through. A couple of days ago, I was outside with (goalkeeping coach) Jimmy Walker and he was feeding me balls. He eventually had to stop because of his hamstrings, but I’m dragging the goalies out all the time. The younger goalies come out with me. I might have been the one that put the ball in the net (on Saturday), but there are so many people that have helped me get to this stage. I’ve only scored one, I want to score a lot more. Personally, it was a good day for me, and it’s a great day for the club because it’s another three points. The fans were superb, I think some of them might be a bit sunburnt. They’re incredible. I find it amazing every time. It’s something special seeing all those guys there – I’m just happy we could get the points for them. The gaffer told me to go on, and he told me to score, actually,” he added. “He said, ‘There’s a goal here for you.’ I think I did a one-two with Goochy in the end, and I’ve thanked Lynden about a million times for playing me in. I just managed to get my head down, and get my foot through it into the bottom corner. It was nice because being 1-0 up with not long to go, it was difficult for the boys. So getting the second one helped the team get to the final whistle without any problems. It was nice to let the boys have a little bit of a relax towards the end.”