WHEN Jack Ross took over at Sunderland, he inherited a club that had developed a phobia for playing at home. Under a combination of David Moyes, Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman, the Black Cats went almost an entire calendar year without winning a single game at the Stadium of Light.

Hence why Ross always regarded his first home outing, and that last-gasp Lynden Gooch winner against Charlton Athletic, as a pivotal moment.

Phil Parkinson has not inherited a club that has become accustomed to losing on home soil, but he does find himself presiding over a team for which home form remains a problem.

Last season’s ten home draws were a key factor in missing out on promotion, and this term’s dropped points against Oxford and Rotherham resulted in further frustration.

So, while Saturday’s defeat at Wycombe Wanderers was disappointing, it is this evening’s maiden home outing against Tranmere Rovers that will set the tone for the opening phase of Parkinson’s Wearside reign. Lead his side to victory, and the 51-year-old will be up and running. Fail to collect all three points, and given the misgivings that some supporters harbour about him being appointed in the first place, he will be on the back foot before he has even had chance to settle into the manager’s chair.

“We’re all looking forward to this,” said Parkinson. “I haven’t detected any of the lads saying, ‘We’re at home so that means this or that’. They’re looking forward to the game.

“They know what to expect from Tranmere - we’ve spoken about that – but there’s nothing better than playing at home when the crowd are right behind you. But you’ve got to earn that.

“I always think supporters respond to what they see on the pitch, and if they see a real intensity in our display, and the passion and work with some end product, they’ll be out of their seats getting behind the team, I’m sure of that.”

Parkinson clearly wants his side to be more positive and braver in possession than they were at the weekend, but as Ross quickly discovered, Sunderland’s approach at their home stadium will always in part be influenced by the approach generally adopted by away teams when they visit Wearside.

Tranmere boss Micky Mellon will almost certainly be packing his defence tonight, and instructing his players to sit deep. Soak up pressure, hit on the break, and don’t be afraid to waste time and break up the game if the opportunity presents itself. It is a game plan Ross never really worked out how to counter, and one that Parkinson also expects to have to negate. Time will tell whether he is any more successful at coming up with a solution than his predecessor.

“You’ve got to accept that teams will play a certain way when they come to our ground,” he said. “Let’s not moan about it at the end, we’ve got to do something about it during the game. We’ve got to play with energy, we’ve got to raise the intensity level of the performance and put Tranmere under pressure.

“If you score a goal early, then they’re not going to slow the game down. We’ve got make sure it’s a real front-foot performance and we look to get them on the back foot really early in the game.”

That could be easier said than done, but whatever happens this evening, Parkinson is determined to enjoy his first home outing as Sunderland boss. As someone who was raised just down the A19 in Stockton, a footballing return to the North-East has special resonance.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the occasion, and looking forward to getting us off and running again. It’s a great opportunity to do just that.”