Pressure is lads have a

Cats should en­joy wide open spaces in­sists Ross

Sunday Sun - - Football - Stu­art Rayner Foot­ball Writer stu­art.rayner@reach­plc.com Stu­art Rayner Foot­ball Writer stu­art.rayner@reach­plc.com

PLAY­ING on League Two grounds should be a bit of a come­down for play­ers like Ai­den McGeady, who have played in ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments for club and coun­try, but Jack Ross thinks Vale Park might be to his lik­ing.

When the Staffordshire ground was built in 1944 it was with dreams of be­ing “the Wem­b­ley of the North”, an 80,000-ca­pac­ity sta­dium. By the time it opened in 1950, it housed only half that num­ber.

And while Port Vale’s 19,052-ca­pac­ity ground cer­tainly does not live up to such a grandiose billing now, it does boast a big play­ing sur­face which a pass­ing team like Sun­day’s vis­i­tors Sun­der­land ought to be able to ex­ploit.

At 114 yards long and 77 wide, it is big­ger and broader than the Sta­dium of Light sur­face

That is good news for the in­form McGeady go­ing into the tele­vised FA Cup first-round tie.

“The pitch on Sun­day is one of the big­gest in the coun­try,” Ross pointed out. “When you have nat­u­ral width from Ai­den and Lyn­den (Gooch), it should suit them.

“I think they will en­joy what their sta­dium will pro­vide on Sun­day.”

McGeady has scored three goals in his last game-and-ahalf for Sun­der­land.

At Ply­mouth Argyle last week, he and Gooch started on the op­po­site wing to usual, at times cutting down the Black Cats’ width on a pitch which was only 73 yards across. While McGeady scored both goals in the 2-0 win – the sec­ond from the penalty spot – Gooch was rel­a­tively sub­dued.

But with so much space to be ex­ploited out wide at Port Vale, McGeady could be out on his more nat­u­ral left-hand side. SUN­DER­LAND will be un­der pressure at Vale Park to­day.

The TV cam­eras will be in tow, and they are not there to see how League Two Port Vale’s new back three is bed­ding in. They are there for an up­set.

The FA Cup is forced to take a back seat de­press­ingly of­ten in mod­ern times, but Vale man­ager Neil Aspin seems de­ter­mined to give the game a good shot, and op­po­site num­ber Jack Ross is send­ing out all the right sig­nals about what team he will pick.

It should make for a proper cup-tie at­mos­phere.

But then, all Sun­der­land’s away matches this sea­son have been played against that back­drop. As com­fort­ably League One’s big­gest club, the Black Cats play­ers may as well take to the field with tar­gets rather than num­bers on their backs. They are the club every other League One side wants to beat, the team which fills sta­dia when­ever they play away. At the Sta­dium of Light, any­thing other than vic­tory is seen as a set­back, at least beyond Wear­side.

Play­ing for Sun­der­land re­quires a cer­tain mind­set. Af­ter years of be­ing caught short in that re­gard, six con­sec­u­tive wins and four straight clean sheets sug­gests the Black Cats have at last found the per­son­nel with the where­withal to face that chal­lenge.

They cer­tainly have a man­ager who laps it up. “I love the pressure in this job every day,” says Ross, whose pre­vi­ous job was with St Mir­ren in the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship. “There’s an ex­pec­ta­tion put on your shoul­ders every sin­gle day you do the job.

“The play­ers are the same, they carry that bur­den, but we’ve tried to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment whereby they em­brace it. In every. away game this sea­son the other team have viewed it as an op­por­tu­nity to take a big scalp, so it’s been good prepa­ra­tion in that sense. We go into Sun­day with a good un­der­stand­ing of what we’re go­ing to face be­cause of that.”

Sun­der­land’s freefall down the league lad­der has left them with one or two play­ers ac­cus­tomed to play­ing on much big­ger stages than an FA Cup first-round tie live on BT Sport.

Lee Cat­ter­mole has cap­tained three Premier League teams, Bryan Oviedo (out in­jured) faced Brazil at the last World Cup, and Adam Matthews and Ai­den McGeady have played Champi- SIR Bob Murray has launched a scathing at­tack on for­mer Sun­der­land chair­man El­lis Short by say­ing he “makes Mike Ash­ley look good”.

Murray was one of the key ar­chi­tects in the mod­ern club, join­ing the board in 1984 and taking over as chair­man in 1986. In 20 years as chair­man he over­saw the build­ing of the Sta­dium of Light and the Academy of Light.

The Black Cats - as they be­came known dur­ing that era - were sev­enth in the Premier League in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons be­tween 1999 and 2001, their best fin­ishes since its glory days came to an end in the 1950s.

The club has gone into de­cline since, suf­fer­ing back-to-back rel­e­ga­tions un­der then-chair­man Short.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with the Roker Rap­port pod­cast, Murray was very crit­i­cal of the Amer­i­can, who took a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in Sun­der­land in 2008, and sold it to Ste­wart Donald in the sum­mer.

“I feel scarred by Short, I feel deeply scarred, my fam­ily feels deeply scarred, I feel re­ally hurt,” said Murray. “If you said to some­body, ‘Take that great club and get them relegated’ - it’s im­pos­si­ble. It’s im­pos­si­ble to take this club into

Lee Cat­ter­mole and Bryan Oviedo

Sir Bob Murray

Ai­den McGeady

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