Jack Ross has been discussing his initial decision to exclude Dylan McGeough from his matchday squad ahead of the Bristol Rovers game. "It was one that, it wasn't really a reflection on my thoughts on him. It was more, the balance I needed in terms of the options I would need for the game. On Saturday, that'll probably be different. I try and pick a bench that reflects how I think a game will go and the options I'll then need to change it. That changes every week. It probably just highlights how the strength we have in the squad now that we're getting back to full health. Dylan, like a lot of the players, will have a big part to play over the next four to five weeks just because of the number of fixtures we have. Fitness wise, it's obviously good to have him back. He's had a little bit of a stop-start season, to a degree. We spoke a little bit about Reece James still having a bit more to give, I think Dylan would fall into that category. I know him really because of how often I watched him in Scotland and we're still trying to encourage him to affect the game more going forward because he has the ability to do so. It's just about the encouragement to get him to play forward as much as he can. I can't criticise him because when he's been asked to do a job in games he's done fine. It's just encouraging him to believe that he can he show his qualities every single game."
The gaffer, has also revealed his excitement for this weekends’ trip to Fratton Park. "I was chatting to Lee Cattermole about it, he played at Fratton Park, I think with Wigan. It's a really good ground to go to. Everything I've seen of it and heard of it, it reminds me a lot of Tynecastle in Scotland. The size of it, the proximity of the stands to the ground, it creates a real atmosphere. I think I've got a squad who'll respond to that, they've responded in the big games this season. They're excited about it.”
Jack Baldwin admits that he has admired Portsmouth’s impressive season so far but Sunderland have to keep doing their own job if they are to catch them. “They’ve started brilliantly, you’ve been looking at the results this season and they’ve kept picking them up and kicking on. Psychologically, it’s a big thing at the weekend, if we can take all three points that would be a big point in the season. Then with so many fans on Boxing Day, if you go back-to-back it puts you in really good stead. You start stringing a few wins together, you’re playing so regularly that it can make a real difference. It’s a vital time for us. It’s a big time of year and it can define the season. You’ve seen it before where a team starts off well but fall off over Christmas and they find it difficult to get back on it again. It fluctuates and there’ve been teams previously who’ve been flying at this time, fallen off and missed the play-offs altogether. In previous years I probably was one to get straight on the phone after a game to see who had done what and how the table was looking. Probably now I’m more just focusing on my own game, on churning out the wins and everything else will take care of itself. We know we’ve got squad to win games and I’ve got more than enough confidence in them to do that and everything else will take care of itself.”
For most players, the prospect of travelling back from Portsmouth on the team coach would fill them with dread, but Luke O’Nien reckons the journey will fly over if the lads pick up all three points on the south-coast. “The team spirit on the coach is great when you’ve won until you’ve played Uno and you get a plus-four card... you lose friends then! Then that plus-four comes out you’re no longer friends. The bus journeys are nice, I enjoy it personally. A couple of the boys’ sleep, a couple play card games, some are on Netflix, especially with the Sunderland documentary to watch now, everyone does their own little things. When we get to the hotel it’s nice when the younger lads come up because they have to sing, so we all look forward to dinner. We’ve all been there, so we know what it’s like. You can tell who’s singing because they’re not really eating much food that night. I like the away trips because we’re all close and we’re all having a good laugh. It’s really good when you win, and we come back on the bus. The atmosphere’s good when you’ve won. I think it was important to get three points at the weekend. It puts us in a very good position for this weekend, which will be a six-pointer. Throughout the season you get different tests and it’s up to us to adapt, to work out early what we need to do and execute a gameplan. You’re not going to win them all but you try to do that, so it was a good three points.”
The midfielder also heaped praise on the travelling supporters and hopes they will continue to inspire the team in the hunt for promotion. “The fans definitely bring the best out of us, being on the bench, I normally look to my left and my right, and even when I’m warming up you see the away support. It’s different when you’re playing because you might zone out, you’re so concentrated on the game but when you see them from the bench, it’s really incredible. If the other team score, which is rare, even then our fans are cheering to keep us going. It is incredible. When you come on in the last minute to see out the game and you’ve got the ball in the corner you can see how much it means to our fans. That’s why we always celebrate with them when we do get the three points. It’s a cliché to say they’re our 12th man, I don't want to be that guy! But they are incredible. If I was the home team and I saw away support like that, you’re already on the back foot because they create a noise which kind of makes us the home team. Just look at Walsall when we came from two down with ten men. The fans were probably the reason why we turned it around. They contributed to that point, and that point could be crucial when we win the league."
In-form defender, Adam Matthews has been discussing our latest victory and looking ahead to the top of the table clash with Portsmouth. “It is a big game but we can go there confident after what we did in the second half against Bristol Rovers and the chances we created. Hopefully we can get the win we need. Our target from the start was to win the league and that is no change, so we will be going there looking to close the gap. We would take top two, but I think everyone in the team has one goal and that is to win the league. That’s the main thing. But you have to make things happen in football, they don’t just happen, so we have to keep doing what we have been doing and winning games. It is looking good, but we need to win those games in hand. We need to keep grinding out results and if we do then I can’t see anyone stopping us.”