Sunderland’s dire start to 2022 was nothing short of pathetic.
Lethargic and clueless performances have been rolled out by too many players who should really be grabbing this division by the scruff of its neck.
The reason we are in this post-New Year slump is this; too many players are going AWOL or putting in displays that wouldn’t look out of place in the Wearside League.
However, it’s not time to dwell on this - that can be analysed in length come the end of the season depending on if any success can be achieved.
Instead, it’s important to focus on one of our ever-reliable players and a man who, after his clinical finishing from the spot, has put himself out in front in the goal scoring charts.
The only player, in my opinion, who has been able to regularly hold his head high throughout the campaign is our main striker, and if things continue we could be into the last dozen or so matches of Ross Stewart’s time as a Sunderland player.
A lot of pressure was put on Stewart to lead the line at the start of this season following the departure of Charlie Wyke.
The Scotsman stepped up to the mark immediately, leading the line for SAFC through good times and bad.
These 11 games in 2022 have been a microcosm of Stewart’s season. He has been regularly feeding on scraps but has worked incredibly hard on and off the ball.
He has been there to score the goals for us, but has been let down by the players around and behind him.
Since the turn of the year, Stewart has scored seven goals in 11 games. Although just the two at Wigan came in a winning cause, his goals at Wycombe and the late header against Burton Albion did prevent us from two more defeats in the poor run.
Selling Wyke and not replacing him seemed odd to many, but the reality is that in Stewart we had a player to not just step into Wyke’s place, but also so become so much more of an all-round player.
In recent weeks, Stewart has been forced out wide far too often and he has on several occasions put a ball into the very area of the penalty area that he should be occupying.
His work rate must be commended, but in reality, he’s only having to work so hard out wide because too many of his teammates are not doing their job.
Our early season form was a result of creative players giving Stewart the opportunities we know he can finish. In terms of an all-round striker, we really couldn’t ask for much better than him.
Stewart’s 22 goals in 35 games is form that deserves promotion - the reality is that due to regular slumps in our campaign, he could end up with 30 goals and still not get promoted.
Keeping hold of Ross Stewart, regardless of which league we are in next season, would be a huge coup.
His stats tell a story of a clinical football league centre forward, but the reality is there is so much more to him than that.