Championship | Soccer | September 1, 2022

A few days ago it looked like Sunderland’s season was turned upside down as Alex Neil was lured away from the Stadium of Light by Championship rivals Stoke City. So far though, there has been no Neil, no problem.

The Black Cats recorded an impressive 3-0 victory over Rotherham United on Wednesday night under new boss Tony Mowbray, but all the attention was on the team leader.

Ross Stewart scored twice and assisted the other in an 18-minute span as the striker once again showed his ability to thrive at this level. After seven league appearances, the Scot is the league’s second top scorer with five, but it’s not just his goalscoring wizardry that allows him to terrorize opposition defences. He’s brilliantly physical, if not the bulkiest of centre-forwards, and he uses his size well, while his ability with the ball at his feet confuses his markers.


When the 26-year-old arrived at Wearside in 2021 from Ross County, no one would have ever expected him to have the impact he did for Sunderland. He’s still seen as a massive leap from Scottish leagues to the Football League, but after six months of settling into his new surroundings, the striker went wild in the third tier in 2021-22.

Thanks to his tenacious work-rate, clinical finishing and composure, he scored 24 Ligue 1 goals to send Sunderland back into the play-offs, where he netted three more times to help the club return to the Championship after a four-year absence. His outstanding contributions won him the hearts and minds of the Mackems who later crowned him the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’ – an ode to former Chelsea goalscorer Didier Drogba. There is something unique about him in the way he plays and that’s why you expected him to succeed in the championship.

Although Sunderland are one of the most historic and decorated clubs in English football, when you excel in the lower leagues there are always vultures sniffing out your best assets. Stewart had attracted interest from Rangers and Swansea City in the summer, with the former offering European football a chance.

The player has been scouted by numerous clubs across the country over the past year and more and more eyes will soon be on him given his excellent form. For now at least, the interest doesn’t seem to have fazed him as he continues to give his all in a red and white shirt, delivering again and again. Not bad for a £300,000 investment.

Along with his teammates, he forged a strong bond with the fanbase that hadn’t happened in several years, and it’s no surprise to see that Stewart and his team got off to a strong start at the second tier. . Stewart has developed a strong partnership with loanee Ellis Simms and both have been involved in 10 of Sunderland’s 11 league goals this term as the club sit eighth – three points behind leaders Sheffield United.

His outstanding displays and goalscoring record saw him rewarded with his first international cap. He came off the bench in Scotland’s 2-0 Nations League win over Armenia in June and it was just another snippet of his incredible rise over the past 18 months.

The biggest concern for Sunderland at the moment is that Stewart’s current deal expires next June and his profile continues to grow. It is an integral part of their short, medium and long term future and they cannot afford to lose it. Luckily, they have a clause to automatically extend his contract for another 12 months to protect themselves from an unsavory situation by the end of the January transfer window.

His application in games is excellent and his rise has been adjacent to that of the club. His role in the team is too big and yet a fraction of what he can still be. And if the club once again reached the heights of the Premier League, we cannot envisage such a scenario without “Loch Ness Drogba”.

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