What must Jack Ross do to succeed at Sunderland?
It’s a fresh start. A new chapter for Sunderland. Although not the cadre the Black Cats would have hoped for, however. With Jack Ross, there’s a realistic chance at recovery after falling from grace. That's if the Scotsman avoids some pitfalls suffered by predecessors.
Chris Coleman caused a stir in November by agreeing to dump an empire in Wales for a seemingly doomed Wearside kingdom. Sunderland were in a precarious situation. Soaked in debt, Ellis Short wanted out; while Simon Grayson got £2m to trade, Coleman received nothing.
Just one victory from 16 games aimed Sunderland towards relegation. With the ex-Preston boss at the helm, defensive frailty was a constant theme at the Stadium of Light. More often than not, they begin on the front foot only to surrender with a brainwave, then crumble thereafter.
Coleman’s stint wasn’t any different. All that changed was the name above the manager office door. Although there were slight improvements at the onset, it reverted to status quo in the year's turn. Sunderland conceded at an incredibly alarming rate. They shipped in 80 – one fewer than Burton who took the crown for the worst defence in the league.
To begin with, Ross must end this reoccurring theme. The 41-year-old would have to find a way to patch the team’s leaky defence. Signing a reliable shot-stopper would be a good way to start. None of Jason Steele, Robbin Ruiter or Lee Camp convinced in the campaign just gone. Home lad Max Stryjek could also be given a look. Ross reckons problems will arise, however, it's about how they respond.
Mistakes will happen – I’ll make them and the players will make them – but it’s about how you react to them and how you learn from them.
Although Sunderland’s failings at the back was a collective one, both Grayson and Coleman were culpable for kindling it. Billy Jones, for instance, was repeatedly deployed out of position in the centre. John O'Shea is far past his prime, so is Marc Wilson - yet both featured predominantly. Ross should build his team around youth: Paddy McNair, Bryan Oviedo and Adam Matthews.
McNair, in particular, should be extremely crucial for the ex-St Mirren boss. The versatile 23-year-old has endeared himself to the hearts of Black Cats faithful with commanding performances since his switch from Manchester United in 2016. Considering O'Shea's age, passing the armband to the Northern Irishman wouldn't be a bad idea.
Even with several changes upstairs, still, Ross may well not get a huge paycheck to shop with. The club's focus would be geared towards reducing running costs. Their current outgoings are obviously far too high in the Championship, nevermind at League One level. The incoming 41-year-old may have to come up with a way of dismantling and rebuilding his team, without any support from the board. Sunderland are capable, however, they have an excellent chance to bounce back.
Ross is unafraid to tweak things, though. He arrives in England with a burgeoning reputation after three utterly successful years north of the border. At St Mirren, he inherited a squad striving to survive the Championship rigours and transformed them into league-winners barely two years after. Such drastic repair work will be needed at the Stadium of Light, which yielded just three victories last term.
The choice of Ross is quite risky owing to inexperience. However, for the Black Cats to bounce back from a couple of desperately miserable slips, he could just turn out be the Messiah providing he avoids his predecessor's oversights.