To be honest, I’m not really surprised by Stewart.
Given the way he plays, it was inevitable that he’d return with the same intensity, because as a person he doesn’t strike me as someone who’s capable of taking it easy.
He’s all or nothing, and when you put Ross Stewart on the pitch, you know at the very least he’s going to work incredibly hard, which is exactly what he’s done so far.
The reward has been two goals, but those will always come for him because not only does he graft hard, he’s surrounded by quality players that recognise his talent and who know that the best way for us to win games is if we supply him with good crosses and passes into dangerous areas.
Ballard I’m a little more surprised about - not because I doubted his quality, but because this was the first big injury setback of his career and it can be hard to adjust to life at this level immediately.
What it does indicate to me is that Ballard probably finds it very easy to play in the Championship and that at some point over the next few years he’ll be playing in the Premier League, injuries and other issues permitting.
He gives us a presence in both boxes that we’ve been lacking, and we wouldn’t have won that game on Boxing Day without him- not only because he handled Ben Brereton Diaz with ease but because he won the first contact and then got the assist for Ellis Simms’ winner by showing determination and battling qualities that we just haven’t had whilst he and Stewart have been out of the team.
Let’s hope that they keep fit, because I don’t doubt for one second that they’ll keep it up as long as they’re on the pitch.
Andrew Smithson says...
I’ve been really impressed with Ballard and Stewart.
It’ll take them time to get up to full match fitness, of course, but they’re such quality players that they’ve already been able to contribute a lot to the side, and I’m confident that there’s also more to come, so things are certainly promising.
For now though, it seems as if they’ve taken care of themselves whilst they’ve been out, and this is what happens when you have ambitious, professional lads in the squad.
Both could well experience a dip at some point as their bodies readjust but that is no slight on them, and all they can do is ensure that they give themselves the best chance to come through any sticky patches, which seems to be the case so far.
It’s to their great credit that they both seem desperate to play, both for their own benefit and to help the team.
You also have to praise those behind the scenes, because they’re creating an environment in which players can thrive.
Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but we’ve been told that the club has a full backroom staff in place now, so presumably that means we’ve got the people needed in that department.
Physios, strength and fitness coaches and nutritionists all play a part in the sport and these are the areas where we can gain an extra couple of percent.
We’ve had some terrible luck on the injury front this season but Ballard and Stewart are examples of how we can turn things our way. If we continue to scout good players and develop the right atmosphere, we should be laughing.
Mitch Marshall says...
Ballard and Stewart have been two excellent additions to an already impressive team, but I can’t say I’m surprised by that.
However, I do think there are signs that neither of them have played for quite some time.
Ballard has committed a couple of clumsy challenges since his return, although I thought the penalty given against him at Hull was harsh. Stewart, meanwhile, looked knackered by the end of our Boxing Day victory after putting in a magnificent shift which was capped off with a sharply-finished penalty.
However, both showed before their injuries that unless those blows became especially complicated, they’d probably come back just as strongly as they had been playing beforehand.
They’re both fairly young, which tends to help, and fit lads who always seem to give their utmost on the pitch. Their personal ambition and drive meant I never thought they’d come back from their injuries in sluggish form, although you can never be certain with these things.
With the help of the World Cup break, two very important players at either end of the pitch had the best chance to make a timely comeback, and so it has proved.
Keep up this good work, and who knows where Ballard and Stewart could take us this season.