JACK ROSS is convinced fatherhood can help Lynden Gooch sparkle even more in the second half of the season after impressing in his first full campaign as a Sunderland regular.

Gooch was a late withdrawal from the team that defeated Wimbledon last Saturday because he rushed home for the birth of his son, Oax Adam Ezra Gooch, later that day.

Now the Californian-born forward is back in the manager’s plans for this weekend’s trip to Oxford United and Ross thinks the player has the right character to shine at the Stadium of Light.

Ross said: “He had a couple of days at the start of the week where he was busy with other things but hopefully he’ll enjoy that little honeymoon period before reality kicks in.

“I think his season’s been great so far. I wasn’t maybe completely aware of the difference between the minutes he’d played last season and the minutes he’s played so far this season – it’s huge and that’s brilliant for him, I think he’s loved it.

“The contribution he’s made has been great, but very different because playing week in, week out, is mentally very different from playing sporadically.

"He’ll still be making a contribution over the course of the season because he trains well.”

The 23-year-old has not played since his part in the Checkatrade Trophy victory over Manchester City’s Under-21s on January 22.

The little break, albeit with a few more sleepless nights on the cards, could well have recharged his batteries at just the right time for the promotion run-in.

Gooch has scored seven times this season and been a huge part of Sunderland’s decent form, creating plenty of chances and gaining a number of assists too.

Ross said: “I noticed very early in the job when I watched players warming up how Lynden and George Honeyman got it right every time and that’s credit to how they’ve been educated in the academy.

“Kevin Ball was responsible for that group and they’ve got really good habits as well as being good players. They just fit with the club and have that passion for it as well.

“It’s also important because it shows there’s a pathway, and that’s important as well so that young players believe they can get into the first team.”

As well as having Gooch available for the trip to the Kassam Stadium this weekend, Ross also has the option of being able to hand a debut to striker Will Grigg.

And Ross believes the Northern Ireland international has what it takes to really make an impact on the League One promotion race this season.

Grigg arrived with an ankle problem on transfer deadline day so missed last week’s game with Wimbledon. He is, though, now ready to appear in a Sunderland shirt.

Ross said: “He should be fine to travel, he trained the majority of the session on Tuesday and trained all of today. Unless there is an adverse reaction he will be OK for this weekend.

“Like Grant Leadbitter, like Lewis Morgan, Will has not played too much this season, so it is about getting them up to speed. In terms of the injury itself he is good to go at the moment.”

Sunderland head to Oxford sitting three points shy of second place Barnsley and boosted by having a small injury list.

With the exception of longterm absentee Donald Love, Ross’s only worries are whether Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo can travel with slight injuries.

Cattermole’s absence also means that Leadbitter, who might have started anyway after a strong first appearance last weekend, is set to continue in the middle following his move from Middlesbrough.

Ross said: “It’s always interesting when you speak to a player for the first time, you can quickly establish whether or not you’ll have a very good connection with them and when I spoke to Grant for the first time, we spoke at length and we share quite a big passion for the game, which helps.

"Anything we ask him, he will do to his absolute maximum and he’ll influence others around him.”