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Will Sunderland opt for the ‘SAS’ when Ross Stewart is fit?

With the big Scot edging closer to a return, the question is whether Tony Mowbray will pair him with Ellis Simms, or play him as a lone striker. We asked our writers for their thoughts…

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jon Guy says…

I would love to see them both play up front as they will be a handful for any defence in this league.

The problem is that with a fully fit squad, we have so much talent and Tony Mowbray will have a real dilemma as to who gets benched. Stewart has to play, but with the likes of Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke out wide, the temptation might be to play both Simms and Stewart and get balls into the box.

That said, it does that mean we have to sacrifice the likes of Alex Pritchard or Elliot Embleton, which might impact our creativity in the middle of the park.

We know how well they played at Bristol City early in the season, so my feeling is that we could go with both, unleash the wingers to provide the crosses, and bomb on if we counter.

The additional benefit of having the pair on the pitch will be when it comes to defending corners and set pieces, which has been a problem due to the lack of height.

Bristol City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mitch Marshall says…

I don’t think it has to be an ‘either/or’ situation. Instead, I think it will be both.

Tony Mowbray blamed our poor performance against Cardiff on playing too many attackers from the start. For that reason, I can see why he might ease both Simms and Stewart back in by rotating them, starting one and replacing them with the other in the second half of games for the foreseeable future.

Our fluid attacking play revolves around combinations between our attacking midfielders and wingers, while Amad has also shown his worth down the middle on occasion. This only adds to the likelihood that Stewart won’t immediately come back in to play alongside Simms.

Both within games, and across the course of the season, I can still see the two big men playing together quite often though.

This season, we’ve shown that we can be equally good playing with four or five at the back, and that gives us a lot of tactical flexibility up top as well. I envisage us mostly playing variations on 4-2-3-1 or 5-3-2 for the rest of the season, and I think we will change between the two as injuries and opponents necessitate.

This means that in the long term, Stewart and Simms will still have the chance to build on the promising partnership they were developing before their double injury blow, and this will probably be increasingly true once both players are fully fit.

Within games, there will also be times when we need both of them on as battering rams to occupy defences and get us back into games, or to help us defend leads.

So, while it might not be imminent, I look forward to seeing the ‘SAS’ tearing defences asunder in time.

Mark Roberts says…

I would only play one. That would be Stewart when he’s match fit, but that will take time.

The frailty of our team has been laid bare with injuries, and questions need to answered with regard to the fitness of Stewart and Simms. What happens if they hit another injury?

We’ve got some exciting talent on the wings with Jack Clarke, Amad and Patrick Roberts, all of whom can create plenty of good chances for our strikers.

I know that Simms and Stewart both had a good game against Bristol City, but equally, we could’ve turned them over with VAR. This is a bizarre league where any team can beat any other team, which regularly happens.

The bigger question for me is who comes in to challenge and support Stewart, and to some extent Simms? It is time to make the move for at least one centre forward for the first team and one for the development squad?

I’m not concerned about any other areas of the pitch.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some stats that suggest Millwall are one of the strongest sides in the Championship regarding set pieces, so I wonder if that’ll have a bearing on Tony Mowbray’s thinking for the first game back.

Both Stewart and Simms are handy defensively, so they may be needed for that as much as anything else.

Going forward, though, I’d be keen not to push either of them. Adrenaline and training gets you so far, but they’ll need to build up the minutes slowly.

We’re fortunate then that we have options. Playing two up top has worked well at times, but if they need to be flipped or to work in a different formation, it isn’t the end of the world.

I always worry that when big players come back from a long layoff, they’ll be expected to hit the ground running. In terms of goals, we haven’t done too badly recently, and the points tally has kept ticking over, so there won’t be that pressure this time.

Few defenders will fancy going up against Stewart anyway, but having other formations available means we can protect him and get the most out of him, rather than flogging him from the off.

It also makes us hard to prepare for, and so I’m looking forward to having a full complement of strikers on hand again. It means that we can move the ball forward a bit quicker if the opportunity arrives, or to put a few more crosses in. Most importantly, though, it will stop teams stepping up and trying to hem us in.

I don’t think we’ll stick with any one partnership or style.

We have good depth in terms of attacking midfielders, and that brings the ability to shift things around depending on the opposition. Hopefully our bad luck with injuries is over and the lads all come back raring to go, so it could be an exciting few months!

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