Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland: The Opposition View '“ '˜No excuse for SunderlandÂ not going up'
Doncaster Rovers are all set for their biggest game of the season so far when they host League One's biggest hitters Sunderland on Tuesday.
The Black Cats certainly looked to have halted their horrendous slide, reset and begun building for a much brighter future.
We spoke to Richard Mennear of the Sunderland Echo to get the lowdown on Jack Ross' side.
Q: It seems to have been so far, so good for Sunderland. How do you reflect on the time since relegation to League One?
RM:Â It has been a whirlwind few months on Wearside, from the despair of successive relegations to new owners, a new manager and a new squad - the buzz is back at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland are targeting automatic promotion this season and with the squad available they should finish in the top two.
They have adapted to life in the third tier reasonably well with just one defeat in 12 but Jack Ross will now want to see his side kick on.
It is a case of so far, so good but there is certainly room for improvement. For one, they have only kept one clean sheet this season but Ross is comfortable about that because he gives his players the freedom to express themselves further up the pitch.
Goalscoring hasn't been a problem and Sunderland should have the goals needed to fire them to promotion.
Q:Â From the outside, it looked as though it could easily have gone two ways for Sunderland this season. What were the expectations at the start?
RM:Â Promotion. Sunderland are the biggest club in the division and with the wage bill available, there is no excuse for not winning promotion this season.
Clearly, there have been a lot of issues to solve and it cannot be underestimated just what a great job Stewart Donald and his fellow directors have done this summer; rebuilding the squad, making a conscious effort to reconnect with the fanbase, while dealing with a host of legacy issues around transfer payments and the Didier Ndong and Papy Djilobodji situations.
Jack Ross too deserves a huge amount of credit for the work he has done to gel the new-look squad so quickly and getting them playing such an attractive style of attacking football.
Q:Â Jack Ross seemed somewhat of a left-field appointment. What has he brought to the club?
RM:Â Ross has made 12 signings and so far the vast majority of those have proved good signings. Tactically very astute, he is also willing to change tactics quickly during games and isn't afraid to make bold substitutions.
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He speaks very well, is clearly a strong man manager and has the respect of players and fans alike. Ross has been a breath of fresh air on Wearside and has really impressed since joining in the summer.
It was a bold decision by the owners and a bold decision by Ross himself to take on the huge project of turning Sunderland around.Â
Q:Â What system and style of play does Ross favour?
RM:Â Ross favours a 3-5-2 system with a back three of Flanagan, Baldwin and Loovens (currently injured). Sunderland are missing Max Power and Bryan Oviedo through suspension for the Doncaster game and Denver Hume remains injured so expect the wing-backs to be Lynden Gooch and Reece James.
Josh Maja has scored nine goals in 12 League One games and has been a revelation, helping relieve the blow of losing marquee signing Charlie Wyke to injury.
Q:Â Who are the dangermen?
RM:Â Josh Maja, clearly, for his goal threat. Excellent with both feet, he has proved clinical in the penalty area.
Chris Maguire has been excellent this season, either in the No.10 role or out wide. A bargain on a free transfer, Maguire has firmly established himself as a fans' favourite.
Dependable Jon McLaughlin in goal has also proved to be a star performer since arriving in the summer.