SUNDERLAND are back up to fifth in League One and find themselves in the same position they ended last year’s agonising campaign, but manager Jack Ross insists it is still too early to tell how this season is going to pan out.

The Black Cats bounced back well from the horror show at Peterborough two weeks earlier to produce a clinical display in winning 3-1 at struggling Accrington Stanley for their sixth win in their last seven matches in league and cup.

They have picked up 14 points from their first seven games in League One and two points per game is a very good return. If achieved over 46 games, it would almost certainly be good enough for automatic promotion.

However, the postponement of last Saturday’s home game with Burton Albion – now rescheduled for November 26 – means Sunderland have played a game less than three of the four teams above them.

As events of last season proved, there is no substitute for points on the board. That will be the case even more this year, given that Bury have been kicked out of League One and so one team will always have a blank Saturday.

While relegated Ipswich were expected to be up there challenging for an instant return to the Championship, early leaders Coventry, Wycombe and Fleetwood are unexpectedly riding high.

So, it is no surprise to hear Ross admit that League One has not properly taken shape yet.

Give it three more games, which means Rotherham tomorrow night and MK Dons at home with a trip to Bolton sandwiched in between, and the Black Cats will have a better idea of their own prospects and the teams likely to be competing against them for promotion.

The scenario of playing catch-up is an all too familiar one and that, as much as too many draws, undid their hopes of a top-two spot last season, which makes Ross wary.

“It won’t be until after ten games that it really starts to settle,” says Ross. “By the end of September, we will start to see a bit of shape to the league.

“We are pleased with where we are, even if we would like to be in an even better position.

“We have had one game postponed because of international commitments and we have to assess whether we keep doing that through the course of the season.

“Last season was challenging because of international call-ups and progressing in the Checkatrade Trophy because it put us back a bit and we were always playing catch-up. We would rather keep racking up the wins and the points.”

The Wham Stadium is a familiar venue for Sunderland, with Saturday’s trip their fourth in nine months, but it did not prevent a bad start as winger Jordan Clark rounded Jon McLaughlin and finished smartly to put Accrington in front.

It was the fifth time in nine games this season that the Black Cats have conceded first, while the wait for a first clean sheet of the campaign goes on.

Yet Sunderland’s response was emphatic and the game was effectively won by half-time with three goals in just under half an hour.

The equaliser arrived almost immediately and was a fine goal, with a cross from the returning Denver Hume emphatically volleyed home by Lynden Gooch.

The American then turned provider as the visitors went ahead as his ball reached Aiden McGeady on the edge of the box, and the Irish wizard simply picked his spot in the top corner for his fourth goal in four matches against these opponents.

Then, when Chris Maguire unselfishly squared to strike partner Marc McNulty to roll the third into an empty net, the Black Cats were cruising.

The second half could not match the first, and while McLaughlin was called upon to make a couple of saves, the result was never in doubt.

The only disappointment was substitute Will Grigg missing a great chance for a fourth in injury time and his first in League One since April 13.

It was a pleasing afternoon in the sun and a good return to the team for left-back Hume, making his first start since being withdrawn at half-time in the 1-1 draw at Ipswich in August.

With new arrival Laurens de Bock competing in the same spot, the Academy youngster knows the pressure is on to perform and keep the shirt.

“You have to respond well,” said the 21-year-old. “When you’ve not been in good form or taken a little dip, the right way is to work as hard as you can to make sure you’re in the best possible form.

“The manager is great with me. He tells me when I’ve done well and when I can do better.

“The staff know I’m a young player and that I’m going to make mistakes every now and then. But that is part of football. That is how you learn.

“I can only thank the manager for having faith in me. He’s played me when I’ve been fit. It’s probably not the easiest thing for him to do to play me.

“But when he’s shown that faith it’s good for me and now I have to prove him right.”