Ross Stewart has scored 15 League One goals so far this season - can he score more than Charlie Wyke’s 25 last season?
When Charlie Wyke opted to leave Sunderland and join Wigan in the summer, many fans were left questioning where the goals would come from.
Ross Stewart was fairly unproven and joined the club with a career-best goal return of 12 in the third tier of Scottish football.
Fast forward to the start of 2022 and I think the Scot has proved 99% of Sunderland fans wrong. With 15 league goals, he currently sits as League One’s top scorer, has become a fan favourite, and is in my opinion the most indispensable player in the Sunderland team.
The 25-year-old’s perfect hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday displayed all of the excellent parts to his game. The movement in behind, the aerial dominance, the ability to beat players one-vs-one, and let’s not forget his brilliant finishing.
He has been fantastic throughout this season and you have to credit the recruitment team massively for choosing him. Both he and Carl Winchester were not exciting signings, both unknown from lesser clubs, but both have been great value for money.
With 22 league matches left to play, there is absolutely no reason now why Ross Stewart cannot go on to beat Wyke’s goal tally last season and I think every Sunderland fan has the belief that he can do it.
Goalscorers win you titles, and Sunderland certainly have one in Ross Stewart.
I don’t think that many SAFC fans believed that Ross Stewart was capable of replacing Charlie Wyke, but boy has he proved us all wrong.— Matthew Crichton (@MattyCrichton) December 30, 2021
His finishing, his work rate, his movement, the Scot has been a breath of fresh air this season and fully deserved his hat-trick! #SAFC pic.twitter.com/LRMUE713Rz
Sunderland are unbeaten in nine League One matches - has Lee Johnson got Sunderland playing the best football we have played since relegation?
We all know that the ultimate goal is promotion, but one thing that can’t be ignored currently is just how good this Sunderland team is to watch.
Winning is always the desired outcome, but if you can do it whilst playing attractive football, the enjoyment and entertainment is just so much higher.
Now that Sunderland have got through the storm of three appalling hammerings and have now gone nine league games without losing, you can see the confidence oozing from many players who have hit form.
We went through the Jack Ross era which is largely remembered for sitting on and then throwing away leads, then the Phil Parkinson era of playing as though you’re trying to avoid relegation, but now we are in a new era of a Sunderland team who always look to play and who look so calm on the ball.
Our cup defeat against Arsenal displayed this so clearly, we didn’t panic or change our style, we looked to play out and focus on our game.
The Sheffield Wednesday match was one of the most enjoyable in years. To come out and thrash a promotion rival at home whilst playing excellent football is exactly what fans want to see and is exactly what has been missing for years.
Sunderland appear to finally be playing as though they are confident in the system, the style and most importantly, confident that they can achieve promotion.
There is a long way to go, but I think everyone can say they’re enjoying the way Lee Johnson has this team playing at the moment.
Lee Johnson reacts to a memorable night on Wearside.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) December 30, 2021
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/SxYqdXQcSJ
Leon Dajaku now looks settled and on form, is he becoming a player Sunderland can rely on to make things happen?
We are really starting to see just how good Leon Dajaku is and boy is he exciting to watch!
After a slow start to the season due to fitness issues and settling into a new country, our Hertha Berlin loanee was limited to a string of cameo appearances from the bench and limited starts.
However, having started the last seven league matches, the 20-year-old has contributed two goals and four assists and is now looking like a frightening opponent for League One defenders.
His one-vs-one dribbling has been excellent - he is one of those wingers who gets you out of your seat when you see him isolated against defenders. Lately, Dajaku has delivered brilliant end-product with his passing and we all know he has an eye for goal too.
Against Sheffield Wednesday, he provided a brilliant assist with a through ball for Ross Stewart’s opener, then delivered a cross for Benji Kimpioka’s late goal.
If he can stay fit, Dajaku looks like a player who can stay in Sunderland’s starting eleven and contribute goals and assists regularly. He has stepped up in Aiden McGeady’s absence and also helped out in an unfamiliar wing-back position.
It is great to see the club recruiting young and exciting players with pace, something we have failed to do across the last three seasons in League One.
An overlapping centre-half! Does Bailey Wright deserve credit for revitalising his Sunderland career?
What a turnaround for Bailey Wright!
At the beginning of the season, he was expected to leave after an incredibly difficult end to last season, I remember a home match before the transfer window closed where he looked as though he was waving goodbye.
He was restricted to being Sunderland’s late sub when we were winning matches and it was questioned whether he could cope playing out from the back in our new system.
Fast forward to now and Wright is excelling on the right side of a three and is contributing well going forward with Dajaku - just look at that cross for Stewart’s hat-trick goal!
Wright was always played in the centre of the three under Parkinson, but after weeks at right-centre-back he now looks more comfortable on the ball, as well as excellent defensively.
His confidence seems to be back and after being someone who many thought would leave in January, he is now a crucial part of a thriving back three.
Wright is an example of how players can fight back to turn their form around and regain the trust of the manager and the fanbase.
His performances have been night and day from the end of last season and it is great to see him back to his best.
A class above when fully fit - how crucial is it that Alex Pritchard and Corry Evans avoid injury to Sunderland’s promotion chances?
From what seemed at first like another big name with injury issues who would be underwhelming, Alex Pritchard has become one of League One’s most excited players across the past two months.
Pritchard has been a creative hub for Sunderland recently and simply oozes class on the ball. His touch, crossing and passing ability are a cut above League One level and as we are now seeing when he is fully fit he is unplayable.
In a similar fashion, Corry Evans was fantastic against Sheffield Wednesday and provides calmness and level of protection to Sunderland’s defence.
As a deep-holding midfielder, he allows the more creative Dan Neil to express himself, whilst Evans mops up the mess and does the simple jobs excellently.
In a system where you have many creative attacking players, you need a more defensive-minded player like Evans to provide balance. His experience at Championship and international level are imperative when you have such a young side and Sunderland don’t have a like-for-like replacement for him.
Both of these players are double-edged swords in that they are two Championship players who have dropped to League One because they are injury-prone. Pritchard has managed to stay fairly clear but struggles to complete 90 minutes, whilst Evans simply has not been around enough, which is particularly problematic given our lack of depth in midfield.
As matches such as our thrashing of Wednesday show, these two players are very important when fit and I think them staying fit will massively impact Sunderland’s chances of promotion unless we strengthen in January.