Maja/Window Craic

Jack Ross reckons that he only needs to make one signing during the January transfer window. We’d guess that will be a massive centre half, who can also cover at right back, although Tom Flanagan can play there too: “If the squad was to remain as it is through January, then we would look to do very little. Maybe we’d look to bring in one player in a defensive area, just to give us a little bit more depth. We’ve seen with Adam’s (Matthews) injury, that we’re a little bit light in that area. But the squad has done well to date, and that’s been with a fair few injuries along the way. We’ve got three key players coming back in Duncan, Lee and Charlie, and that should help us further. We’ve had very few occasions when we’ve had a fully-fit squad, and we’ve managed reasonably well, so I’d prefer not to do too much in January unless I had to. It’s always a very difficult window to get much right in, so I’d prefer to keep this continuity that we’ve got. With Charlie, we’re confident that post-Portsmouth, he should be back available for first-team games. We’ve got a couple of things lined up for him this week and next week, and we’re hoping that post-Christmas, that will be him back in the group and available for selection within the squad. That will be very good for us. If you look at Lee, Charlie and Duncan, then having the three of those players back will be great for us. To have three players of that calibre coming back into the squad is a massive boost. If you look at the attributes that they bring to the squad, then they bring different characteristics that we’ve not had. I’m delighted to have all three of them back around. Lee’s form so far this season has been great, we’ve spoken often enough about the contribution he’s made, Duncan is a really good player, and Charlie will be a good player for us. He’s looking sharp, fit and strong, and it’s not far off now that he’ll be back and available. He brings something different,” added Ross. “We’ve said often enough that we’ve had a fair bit of similarity amongst our forward players. Individually, a lot of them have done really well, but to have that different option, whether it’s starting games or from the bench, will definitely help us.”

Jack Ross has been chatting about Josh Maja's contract situation. Basically, he wants it sorted, but is quite chilled about it! "I do think, for everybody's sake, we need to bring it to a head sooner rather than later," said Ross. “In my experience, the longer these situations drag on, I don't think there is any benefit to any of the parties involved. I haven't heard anything new on it [the negotiations]. The talks have been ongoing, and I think they have been much slower than the club would have liked. But speaking as a manager, I think clarity on these things is always better than uncertainty. My relationship with Josh has always been consistent, he knows that, and we communicate a lot. But there is uncertainty not only for the club, but also from his own point of view. Only he can tell you what he thinks in his own head, but he will be aware of the speculation around him. As it stands, he might not be here longer than May - that would mean new surroundings, new teammates, a new house, and all those things, which creates uncertainty in itself. There are elements of the conversation that I don't get involved in - and neither does he, I should think, given the way football is. But the communication we have is about his own career and progression, and he speaks a lot to Potts [coach John Potter]. The good thing is that we have always been consistent in our approach with him. Nothing will deteriorate our relationship unless something disrespectful happens, and he'd never do that because of the type of lad he is. It genuinely isn't on my mind a lot, just because of the demands of the games, but I do think about it one, because it creates uncertainty, and two, because I have to be mindful of the business model of the club. I think Stewart [Donald, the Sunderland chairman] and Charlie [Methven, executive director] have always known that I buy into that. It's very easy to be selfish as a manager, but I want to be here longer than just one or two seasons and to help that, I need to think about the bigger picture at times. That's why we need clarity - it helps me to plan and it helps the club to plan. Some parts of his game need to be worked on. That's not criticism of him, it's just entirely accurate and it's what we say to him privately. We work with him, he is conscientious, and he thinks a lot about his game and he does understand when he has not played well. There are areas he needs to keep strengthening if he is to get through the levels with us. You can't rely just on being a really good finisher, which undoubtedly he is. We hope because of how he is that he will do that, and Saturday [Sunderland's game at Accrington which was abandoned, in which Maja was substituted] was another learning experience for him in as far as there have to be different ways to be effective in a match depending on what you are facing."

In other news, Ross gave an update on Ethan Robson’s rehab. "Ethan has started running again, which is a step forward after what was quite a nasty injury he had," said Ross. “He's back running on the grass, he is doing some strength and conditioning work, but he is probably two or three weeks away from being back in full training. We've got good options in midfield so it does you peace of mind in that area of the pitch, but it is incredible how quickly it can turn. If you look back at the [league] game at Walsall a couple of weeks ago, we only had Max [Power] and Luke O'Nien available. But then when you've got Dylan [McGeouch] back, Lee back, and Ethan back in a few weeks, you've got five in that area - and then there's George [Honeyman] who is also capable of playing in there. It looks like you are OK on paper, but things can change very quickly - particularly given how many games there are in this league. It's been a strange season - we've hardly ever had a full squad available. I was looking at it today and if everyone is fit, you'd maybe say we are probably slightly bloated, but we have never had that. It's just part of the challenge we have faced this season. We have never had every single player available at the same time. I'm not complaining because we have still got enough within the squad, but you need competition within the squad to make sure the players realise they have to be at it."

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