It looks like Jack Ross has smoothed things out with the Scottish FA, so that Jon McLaughlin can play for us against Wycombe next Saturday. Diplomat Ross said: “I spoke to Alex McLeish on Thursday and had a chat with Jon previous to that. I made it clear to Jon and Alex, in terms of an international set up, any national team, that I would never stand in front of any player being involved. We have internationals but can’t automatically get games called off. That’s a challenge for Scotland as well. I explained to Alex the game with Wycombe going ahead. Jon is third choice and between us we decided he could play for us. It was not a lack of desire on Jon’s behalf. It was hard when your club plays during that period too. It could be problematic for us further down the line if we postponed the Wycombe game. If we do continue to progress in the cup competitions that would only make it more difficult. Alex was good about it. A lot is down to the manner to which you approach it. If Jon had to be part of the squad I would have had no issue with it, the opportunity to represent your country is always a big one. I would never force a player’s hand in that sense. Jon and I had a conversation and he knew how I was going to communicate with Alex. He knows I am not speaking out of turn when I say Jon is third choice with Scotland, when you have (Rangers) Allan McGregor and (Celtic's) Craig Gordon who are both hugely experienced goalkeepers but also actually in very good form, you can see that in their performances in the Europa League. Jon knows where he stands. That makes it easier for Alex as well. It might have been a different story had he been first or second choice (for Scotland). The first dialogue I had with Jon, if he had been adamant that no matter what he was going, then that would have been fine with me. We would have dealt with it. Jon is very laid back about things, either way he would have been fine. My desire was for him to stay with us and play the game. It is an important league game for us and he is in good form. It is an advantage for me that I know Alex, he understood our position. I don’t imagine it will count against him. There may be occasions while we remain in this league that there is that potential for a conflict between our league games and international weekends. Certainly the dialogue I had with Alex and after that with Stevie Woods the goalkeeper coach, who I have known a while, they were fully understanding of the situation.”
Meanwhile, Tom Flanagan has been selected for Northern Ireland's fixtures against the Republic of Ireland and Austria, but Bryan Oviedo, who was not named in the Costa Rica squad for their upcoming clash with Peru.
Elsewhere, Max Power’s four match suspension is over and he’s available for the trip to Port Vale. Chances are that with Lee Cattermole still injured, Power will start on Sunday. “It’s excellent news for me and it strengthens our squad,” said Ross. “It’s been very stop-start for Max this season as we know, but he’s continued to train well in the period he’s been out, and he played a bounce game during the week to get a feel for playing on a big pitch again. It’s a bonus for us to have him back in the squad, and to come through the period he’s been absent in such good form is encouraging for me.”
In other news, Charlie Methven has been chatting about our club’s category one status. “We’re totally committed to Category 1 status,” Methven said. “I’d go even further than that. If you look at the cost base of the club ultimately being maybe around £23, 24 million a year, and you subtract the £3/4 million that the academy costs, then the rest of the club breaks even. The academy then becomes an annual investment by us that then you then hope will be repaid at some stage by players being sold. I know that fans don’t like to hear that because you want to keep all your best players, but in reality, from time to time a player will be sold, like Jordan Pickford or Jordan Henderson. Then your patience is rewarded amply, you don’t then need to justify the money you are spending year on year. We are totally committed to it, from a footballing perspective, which is why we put in place a management team that believes in playing young players. From a financial perspective, we believe it’s right thing, we actually think it is much harder to justify running a category two or three academy. Finally, we believe that in it from a community perspective. If Sunderland is to be what it should be, it needs to be the dominant academy in the region, reaching out to schools, local clubs and having strong partnerships. That’s what Paul Reid is really set on expanding in his role. So, we feel expansive towards the academy, rather than cutting it back.”
Meanwhile, Duncan Watmore came through 25 minutes of a training-ground game earlier this week and will have a further run out for the under-23s before he’s available for first team squad selection. Dunc said: “It’s one of those things where I’ve had to be very, very patient. It’s pretty much 12 months since I had the operation and it’s all gone really well. The second time around, all the advice from the sports scientists and surgeons (is that) you’ve got to be extra patient. I’m finally at a position now where I can be playing minutes and even though it was an in-house game, I really enjoyed it. I felt good, which is important. It’s not like I’m going to be fit for next week but the more I train, the more I can get these kind of minutes in and this kind of experience, the fitter I’m going to get and the more confident I’ll get within my knee. It’s only a good thing and I can’t wait to get back playing. Rehab can be a lonely place when you’re doing a lot of the work yourself in the gym and the lads are out training and playing games and stuff. It’s great to be back a part of it and I can’t wait to be playing games soon.”
Ross also discussed Duncan Watmore’s return: “I’ve been very consistent in that I’ve never put a timeframe on it [Duncan’s return], and I’ve been consistent in my conversations with him on that. The work Paul Walsh and Peter Brand have done with him on the sports science side has been fantastic, and it’s allowed him to progress at a really steady rate. The next step will be to be involved with the under-23s, and once he comes through that we will start to assess when he can become involved in first-team games. There is no definitive timeline on it.”
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