After an absence of almost four months, Ross Stewart is finally back from injury, and to the delight of everyone, he’s back among the goals.
The last image we had of our leading goalscorer was that of a jubilant celebration of his double, with an assist to boot, during the 3-0 battering of Rotherham back in August.
Even though we didn’t win at the MKM Stadium, Saturday brought back a glimpse of those days, as we were able to watch Stewart celebrating in the corner with his teammates after scoring. It was a sight that’s been greatly missed and will surely never get old.
During the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’s’ absence, we all wondered exactly where the goals would come from.
In the fifteen games since his injury, we’ve scored more than one goal only six times in the league, and have drawn a blank on five occasions. Fortunately, the team stepped up somewhat during Stewart’s absence, but his goal on Saturday still makes him our top scorer.
In fact, in only eight league games, Stewart has six goals, with an additional three assists to his name, which is good enough for joint second-highest in the squad.
In short, his importance to this team is colossal, and that’s a statement that not everyone was sure we’d still be making after last year’s campaign.
It was certainly true during 2021/2022, as his twenty four league goals and five assists propelled Sunderland towards our long-awaited escape from League One, but those numbers were against third division opponents.
The question all summer was whether or not he would continue that form at Championship level, but at this point, I think he’s answered the question. After a four-month lay-off and against an extra man after Elliot Embleton’s dismissal, our talisman showed what we’ve been missing.
With our fears about Stewart scoring in the Championship eased somewhat, the question now is whether we can we keep hold of him.
I think the answer to that question is far easier than it might seem, and in short, the answer is yes. All we have to do is pay him exactly what a Championship striker deserves.
Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Kristjaan Speakman have both spoken about the nature of Sunderland’s recruitment and business model. They’ve both explained that at some point, we’ll have to sell assets to bring in more talent. I completely agree with this approach, because it’s what we’ve been missing for a very long time.
That said, a solid, consistent striker is difficult to find.
The sell-ons will undoubtedly happen, but there’ll also be some talent that we uncover or develop that we’ll be keen to tie down to long-term deals.
For me, Ross Stewart fits that mould, and if we don’t pay him to score for fun, someone else will.