HE can laugh about it now, but when Jack Ross was formally appointed as Sunderland’s new manager a year ago today, it is safe to say he found himself at the eye of a storm.

For a start, he only had 11 senior players. And two of them were refusing to turn up to training. The club he walked in to was battered and bruised, reeling from the effects of two successive relegations and preparing for life in the third tier for only the second time in its history.

A couple of weeks later, Sunderland’s new owners, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, embarked on a cost-cutting exercise that resulted in a number of employees losing their jobs. In terms of new beginnings, it was not an auspicious start.

So while some might view a place in tomorrow’s League One play-off final as an underachievement given Sunderland’s size and stature, Ross looks at the last 12 months rather differently.

Pride has been restored, both on and off the field, and the bond between the fans and the club has been repaired. A new squad has evolved and battled its way to Wembley, recovering from the blow of missing out on automatic promotion to beat Portsmouth in the play-off semi-finals. And the stench of defeat that was so stifling last summer has been replaced by the whiff of optimism.

Tomorrow’s final will determine what league Sunderland are playing in next season, with nine months of toil culminating in a single match at Wembley. But whatever happens against Charlton Athletic, Ross will still regard his first year on Wearside as a major success.

“It’s gone by terribly quickly,” said the Sunderland boss, whose main selection dilemma ahead of tomorrow’s game relates to Aiden McGeady, whose attempts to recover from a foot problem are set to go to the wire. “It’s been a terrific experience and a challenging one.

“We’ve touched on the things that people don’t see over the course of a season, that people need to get better at, that we need to improve upon as a club, but speaking to a lot of people around the club and the academy, they’ll reference a lot about how enjoyable they’ve found this season, how they think it’s reinvigorated the club to a large extent.

“The staff who were here, who I inherited, have been really good. They were beaten down and people wrongly believed that they weren’t good at what they did or they weren’t good people. They’ve been terrific, and they’ve enjoyed large aspects about this season.

“They’re excited about going back to Wembley again, but ultimately football will be judged on that end result and we’ll be judged in some quarters on the outcome of Sunday’s game. Not all quarters, but some quarters. Hopefully, we can come out on the right side of that.”

Partly because of his hands-on approach to all aspects of management, and partly because of the scale of some of the challenges he has encountered, Ross readily admits he has developed an especially deep bond with Sunderland.

He threw himself into his previous managerial roles at Alloa Athletic and St Mirren with a wholehearted commitment, but life on Wearside has been different, more all-encompassing and therefore more fulfilling.

He quickly learned how much Sunderland, as a club, means to the local community, and how intrinsically intertwined Sunderland, as a community, is with its club.

“You can’t detach yourself from how passionate people are about this club,” said Ross. “The fanbase is very obvious, but what I’ve learned over time is the amount of people who work at the club either at Black Cat House, the stadium or the Academy, who are either born-and-bred Mackems or fans of the club, is incredible.

“I don’t know how much that is repeated at clubs through this country, but that is a brilliant thing. It also brings added pressure because you want to succeed for them as well.

“Because you have that on a daily basis you can’t help but want to have success on a daily basis. I’ve always said that being a manager is a job, and I’m trying to do my job properly. But I’m conscious of the responsibility I have to do that job properly for these people I’ve met over the last year.”

Whatever happens tomorrow, Ross will remain in his current position next season. That makes him something of a rarity amongst recent Sunderland bosses, and while remaining in League One would be a huge disappointment if things were not to go to plan against Charlton, the lack of yet more close-season upheaval can only be a positive no matter what unfolds at Wembley.

The vast majority of the current squad will remain in place whether Sunderland are playing in the Championship or League One next term, and for once, it will evolution rather than revolution that is the aim in the summer break.

“I’m aware of the number of different managers who have been here over recent times, but it’s not just here, a lot of clubs go through similar changes,” said Ross. “Football has changed in that respect. The want for change increases massively and sometimes incorrectly.

“In terms of me being here, I did say when I arrived that my ambition was to be here as long as I could because there’s not a huge amount of places I can go to from there that are bigger, that are more challenging, and the potential to keep driving the club forward remains.

“Very obviously, I want to stay in this job for as long as I can because, although it has been a really challenging and draining year, it has been tremendously enjoyable as well.”