Jack Ross sees left-back Laurens De Bock as “the last piece of the jigsaw” now his squad is set for the rest of 2019.

The Black Cats travel to Accrington Stanley on Saturday for their first match since the summer transfer window closed. They cannot add to it until the new year, except with free agents.

De Bock and centre-back Joel Lynch have joined since the last game, a 3-0 defeat at Peterborough United, and Ross is now happy with the balance of his squad, even though former player Micky Gray is already talking about adding to the pool of strikers in January.

“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” he said. “Contrary to some people’s opinion we didn’t have a lot of money to spend this summer, we recruited a lot in the free markets and loan markets. It’s not easy to do that and identify the right ones but we feel as if we’ve done that and we’ve got a healthy competition and balance in the squad now.

 

“It’s been reflected in a decent start to the season, it’s just making sure that decent start becomes better.

“That last piece of the jigsaw was making sure we had competition at left-back and we feel as if we’ve got that now.”

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Belgian De Bock has joined on a season-long loan from Leeds United, and has experience of Champions League football in his homeland. He will build his match-fitness up for the under-23s at home to Middlesbrough on Monday rather than feature at the Crown Ground, and Ross says the left-back position is 21-year-old Denver Hume’s unless or until De Bock can do something about it.

“I still want to progress Denver, he’s still got a big part to play this season,” he stressed.

“I didn’t want to recruit one who was a similar age to Denver and block his pathway. They’re not easy to find and not easy to bring in but we managed to do that with Laurens, who has a good pedigree and has played at a good level of the game overseas.

“We can sometimes be over-protective with players nowadays. The brutal truth of this industry is you have to be at your best to play every week. You’re going to face competition for places.

“The biggest compliment is that Denver is a first-team player, and has been pretty much since I took the job. This season, whenever he has been fit and playing well, he has played. That will continue to be the case.

“If he is unavailable or dips in performance level it offers an opportunity to somebody else but if he can maintain the levels that more often than not he’s shown this season, then at the moment he’s in possession of that jersey.”

Since the season began, Ross was consistent in saying all his squad needed for balance was a player to compete with and provide cover for Hume, their only specialist left-back. Hume missed four of the opening eight games through poor form or injury, forcing right-footer Conor McLaughlin into action there.

De Bock’s arrival means Sunderland now have an alternative player for every position in the 4-4-2 formation which became Ross’ preference after experimenting with three at the back in pre-season and the first two competitive matches.

 

The arrival of Lynch was about adding quality rather than depth, with fellow centre-back Glenn Loovens released in August and Jack Baldwin joining League Two new boys Salford City on a season-long loan.

In all, Sunderland signed seven players this summer. De Bock is on loan from Leeds United, Marc McNulty from Reading and the rest were free signings with the exception of George Dobson, bought from Walsall.

Around £6m has been slashed from the wage bill with George Honeyman and Reece James sold, Baldwin and Ethan Robson loaned out, Loovens, Lee Cattermole, Bryan Oviedo and Donald Love paid off, and Adam Matthews, Robbin Ruiter and Max Stryjek released.