Ross Stewart was clinical against Wycombe and offers Sunderland something completely different from last season.
Ross Stewart was outstanding yesterday and is continuing to show exactly why Lee Johnson has placed so much faith in him to succeed. The ex-Ross County striker won flick-ons, worked the channels, held the ball up, ran in behind and scored two excellent goals in what was a strong all-round performance.
The 25-year-old scored a header to put Sunderland in front and his finish for the second, to lift the ball into the roof of the net above the diving David Stockdale, was sublime. With four goals in five league matches, Stewart has eased the anxiety of every Sunderland fan who felt as though we needed more to adequately replace Charlie Wyke.
When Stewart plays, Sunderland have different ways of playing rather than our one-dimensional approach last season. Whether we want to work the ball in behind, focus on crossing, or hit teams on the counter in one-vs-one duels, Stewart on current form is capable of all of the above and he allows the team to try and penetrate the opposition in a variety of ways.
After starting pre-season as a player who was seen by some as a backup striker, Ross Stewart is now looking like an indispensable part of Sunderland’s team just four weeks into the season.
Dan Neil was brilliant once again and has proved so far this season that he does not need a loan.
Have you ever seen a 19-year-old footballer look so cool and composed in midfield? The first thing I noticed last season about Dan Neil was his progressive passing. He always looks to move the ball forward and advance play, which was something Sunderland criminally lacked last season.
It is fantastic to see a midfielder who wants to take risks and make things happen, someone who is willing to receive the ball in tight spaces and move the team up the pitch.
Neil has started every league match for Sunderland this season and fully deserves his place. He covered excellently at left-back, but in midfield he looks so sharp and confident. Given that Sunderland released four central midfielders this summer, it is a credit to Neil that we have only recruited one and it shows exactly how much faith Lee Johnson has in him.
Some argued that the 19-year-old wouldn’t be ready for regular League One football given his lack of experience, but he is proving game by game that he can shine at this level under high pressure.
Should Corry Evans be fit for the next match, I would be more than happy to see Luke O’Nien and Neil start together once again. He has earned his place through his brilliant performances and it is now his to lose.
Elliot Embleton is stepping up as a player Sunderland can rely on for game-changing moments.
Embleton’s cross for Stewart’s opener and his fantastic long-range curler were both on what is notionally his ‘weaker foot’ if you had not noticed – although as a genuinely two-footed player it would be fair to say he doesn’t have a weaker side. The 22-year-old is stepping up as a player that Sunderland can rely on to make big moments happen, moments that win games.
His goal was simply beautiful. A fast one-two with Lynden Gooch was followed by a perfect curling effort. It was one of those where as soon as it left his foot you knew where it was going.
After a period of failing to really show what he can do in the rare chances he was awarded in league matches, Embleton has returned from his loan at Blackpool as a genuine first-team player. He is performing with so much confidence and taking a leading role – someone the team looks to for a game-changing moment. It is great to see we’re not over-reliant on Aiden McGeady.
When Chris Maguire was released many wondered who would replace him as that player you could trust to make something happen. I think we have found that in Embleton this season.
With two goals and two assists in five matches, I think Embleton is more than capable of being a player who could achieve double figures for both statistics this season.
Who would have thought that Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle would have made such an excellent partnership?
Imagine being told after the playoffs that Sunderland would start the season with a 17-year-old playing alongside Tom Flanagan? I cannot write the response you would have made.
Yesterday was a massive test for the duo. They came up against a very physical side who were incredibly direct. In addition to this, they came up against an in-form forward who once scored double figures at Premier League level in Sam Vokes.
It was a test they passed with flying colours. Both of them were dominant aerially and, against expectation, they are becoming a fantastic partnership. Many thought new signing Fred Alves would take Flanagan’s position, but instead, he has responded in the best way by increasing his performance levels.
The 29-year-old looks the most confident he has ever been in a Sunderland shirt and it would be a huge shame if he suffered any of the injury issues he was plagued with throughout last season.
Flanagan and Doyle’s new partnership has been a crucial part of Sunderland’s success so far this season and long may it continue.