JACK ROSS and Sunderland’s players have joined in with an initiative to spread festive cheer into the local community, and he thinks it is the latest sign of how the club is successfully reconnecting with its fans.

The Black Cats squad and Ross, the manager, have donated tickets as part of the Gift of Football scheme, which has seen more than 1,000 tickets so far purchased and donated back to the Foundation of Light charity.

Those tickets are being handed to people in the community who don’t normally get to go to Sunderland matches and they will be able to attend the Boxing Day date with Bradford City at the Stadium of Light.

There are already more than 32,000 in ticket sales for that particular match, including those purchased as part of the initiative, with Sunderland owner Stewart Donald and directors Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori known to have bought 50 each.

Ross and his players have also contributed this week and the Sunderland boss believes that the move is a brilliant one for a number of reasons.

He said: “I don’t know how many the players are giving, I am not buying 50, no! I am buying tickets but not 50, that’s not because I am tight, I am not a tight Scotsman, just not as wealthy as they are!

“There is a knock-on effect, we will have people in the stadium because a stadium with fans in it is brilliant anyway. The crowd will be a good one on Boxing Day and that is an obvious one was well, but it’s just a great idea.

“It encourages supporters to believe that the players here at the club appreciate them, and they have bought into this club and they understand the area, the fanbase.”

Sunderland captain George Honeyman has described how important he thinks the move is in terms of the relationship with the wider community.

Honeyman, knowing that there are further visits planned to hand out tickets, said: “Win, lose or draw, our support has been outstanding this season and as players no single gesture could ever do it justice.

“But while thousands turn up each and every week and enjoy football at the Stadium of Light, we appreciate that many of our supporters are unable to attend games regularly, if at all, so the festive period is the perfect time for us to give something back.

“All of the players have seen the idea growing on social media and it’s been the talk of the dressing room, so we are delighted to be involved and we will be surprising fans throughout the next couple of weeks.”

And Ross, whose side are taking another full away allocation to Accrington on Saturday, think feels that Donald deserved enormous credit for how he has gone about forging a bond with the fan base again.

He said: “During Stewart’s ownership of the club, you have to commend him on how he has tried to rebuild the relationship between supporters and everyone on the football side of the club. He has done a remarkable job on that.  “There have been innovative and creative ideas. I know it came from a supporter, but to support the idea is terrific. If you are a lover of football then it is refreshing to hear the good things about the game.  “Stewart, Charlie and the players are all supportive of it. It is a reflection of how the club is feeling at the moment and it’s about continuing the growing relationship with the fans.

“The good thing is with the dialogue I have with Stewart and Charlie, he asked if he could speak with George Honeyman to make sure they understood the idea behind it.  “It is easy if you believe in what is being done, it is a brilliant idea and it will benefit people those who don’t always get to watch us play. Fitting at this time of the year.”

Sunderland will have Chris Maguire available again at Accrington but Ross has revealed that forward Duncan Watmore will not be involved.

Watmore made his return to senior football in Tuesday's Checkatrade Trophy win over Notts County. He was involved in the opening goal and generally looked sharp for the 67 minutes he was on the pitch.  But Ross is reluctant to play him too much too soon knowing how Watmore suffered two cruciate knee ligament injuries in less than 12 months and has been sidelined for a year.

“He won't be involved on Saturday and then we'll look at next week,” Ross said. “He and I speak all the time and we've had a plan.  “So far we've stuck to that plan and we'll continue to do that. By the time we get to the end of the year he should be there but he's going to have to build it up, build it up and build it up.

 “I think we've done it well so far and we'll keep that same approach over the coming weeks as well.”

But Ross loved being able to call on Watmore for the first time since taking over on Wearside having left St Mirren in the summer.

The Sunderland boss said: "I am delighted for him personally, it has been a tough period for him to endure. A lot of the staff have helped him get to the point.  "To have a player of his calibre coming back has been very good. Everything he did looked natural as well. There was no hesitation and that is a sign of where he is physically and mentally.  “In fact the players who were here last year, the minutes they played last year compared to this, like Josh Maja, the minutes he has played this season to last season has been remarkable. Hopefully Duncan can now go on and play plenty between now and the end of the season."

Ross also revealed that Charlie Wyke is back in full training after suffering a recurrence of his knee injury in September.  Midfielder Lee Cattermole is back in full training too after a month out but will not be risked this weekend. It could be that Cattermole, who has enjoyed a positive season in League One so far under Ross, and could figure against Walsall.