4 things Jack Ross must do to save his job at Sunderland
His side were booed off after their 1-1 draw at rock-bottom Bolton and, with pressure mounting on the Scot, Will Rook outlines how he can avoid the sack.
Address damaging narratives
However you look at it, Sunderland are comfortably the biggest club in League One.
They’ve spent more time in the Premier League than any other club in the division, have 18,000 more seats than the second-biggest stadium and boast an average attendance at least 10,000 higher than their closest rival.
As a result, the narrative that they should walk the league has stuck.
Bolton manager Keith Hill fell into that trap on Saturday, saying: “You only have to look at the bench to see what type of money they have spent in summer.”
The Black Cats actually paid just one fee in the off-season – £200k for former Walsall captain George Dobson.
They are also operating in their final year of parachute payments, which have been reduced from £34m to £14.5m and are swallowed up in the running costs of ‘about £20m’ according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire.
Peterborough, meanwhile, splurged a seven-figure outlay on forward Mo Eisa alone.
The sooner the Scot can change perceptions, the better.
Embrace his achievements
Sunderland were a mess when Ross arrived in May 2018.
They had just suffered a second successive relegation and were stuck with a host of players crippling their wage budget who they were struggling to shift.
Any thought of promotion was distant, but Ross helped to change that.
They achieved a fifth-place finish – Sunderland’s highest in any table since winning the Championship in 2006/07 – and were a 94th-minute goal away from taking the play-off final to extra time.
They also lost just five league games last season – fewer than any other side in League One.
Even after Saturday’s draw with Bolton, Sunderland are still in fifth place with just one defeat.
They are no longer a nightmare club and that is, at least in part, down to Ross.
Prepare a Plan B
Aiden McGeady scored 14 goals in all competitions for Sunderland last season and has netted a further four this term. He is one of the best players in League One and, when he plays well, so do Sunderland.
But getting him to play regularly has been an issue.
The winger missed 27 matches in all competitions in 2018/19, and has already missed three more this term with another niggle that means he is a major doubt for the EFL Cup third-round tie against Sheffield United on Wednesday.
Sunderland’s reliance on McGeady is underlined by the fact that four of their five league defeats last season came without him in the squad. But, rather than hope for a prolonged period of fitness, it makes sense to give some game time to alternatives.
Twenty-year-old Elliot Embleton, for example, signed a two-year contract after returning from a loan at Grimsby last season, but has played just 10 minutes in the league since starting against Oxford on the opening day.
Turn draws into victories
This one is simple.
Sunderland drew a league-high 19 matches last season, while four of their opening nine games this term have finished level.
Their game at Bolton was the 19th since the start of 2018/19 that has finished 1-1.
The Black Cats have been hard to beat since Ross took over, but that has hampered their creativity.
Sunderland took the eighth-fewest shots of any side in League One last season.
They have also attempted 783 long passes this term – the seventh-most in the divison – despite only starting target man Charlie Wyke three times.
In Chris Maguire, Marc McNulty and Will Grigg, they are not short of attacking talent.
Take a few more risks going forward, and they will surely be rewarded.
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