Phil West says...
At the risk of sounding blinkered, I’m not losing a great deal of sleep about Ross Stewart’s current form.
After all, his goal output this season has undoubtedly been pivotal in helping us to sustain a challenge towards the summit of the league, and I’m absolutely certain that Alex Neil is looking for more goals from elsewhere, in order to ease the burden on Stewart.
That said, I think that there are one or two things that can be done to help him hit the goal trail once again.
The first thing will be the return of Alex Pritchard, hopefully for the Shrewsbury game. Pritchard is the one player who I would back to play the kind of accurate pass into Stewart’s feet that he thrives on.
For a big striker, he’s very, very adept with the ball on the deck, and if Pritchard can get on his wavelength, there could be the potential for some effective link-up play between them.
In addition, we need to use the width of the pitch to greater effect with the likes of Roberts and Clarke, in order to whip crosses into the box that Stewart can utilise.
He is a dominant presence in the penalty area, given the right standard of service, and it was no coincidence that on Saturday, for example, he was left isolated and often feeding on scraps due to Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke not stretching the opposing defence and putting dangerous crosses into the box.
If that can be rectified, Stewart becomes a real threat once again.
I do not believe that Stewart is in need of a rest (though I wouldn’t blame Neil if he did bench him for Shrewsbury) and I really do think that if we can play to his strengths & maintain a supply line to him, he can bag some crucial goals over the final weeks of the season.
Andrew Smithson says...
I can see why it is a talking point because he is being judged now by the very high standards he has set himself, but I’m not worried about Stewart’s recent lack of goals, simply because he is still contributing in other areas. If anything, it might be a good thing as it could stop bids coming in for him over the summer!
Honestly, though, Stewart brings so much more to the side and until that stops being the case I won’t have a problem. He is always willing to come back and defend, works the channels brilliantly and will chase seemingly poor balls - things that might appear minor on their own but over the course of 90 minutes will make a difference as they get us up the pitch, take the pressure off the defence and force mistakes from the opposition.
The way we are set up at the moment means the goals can come from elsewhere; Stewart is still involved, even if he is just occupying defenders, but he doesn’t need to be the one putting chances away and that makes us harder to prepare for overall. On a personal level it will be hurting him though, so no doubt he will be keen to get back on the scoresheet for his own confidence.
For that to happen we perhaps need more balls coming back in from the byline or to have somebody like Dan Neil or like Phil says, Alex Pritchard, back in the side and picking holes with slide-rule passes. Having players cutting in and swinging crosses in has worked at times recently, but a bit of variety from out wide or a few balls along the deck for Stewart to run onto mixes it up and plays to his strengths.
As far as resting Stewart goes I would actually like to bring him out of the side in a perfect world. Not because he isn’t doing enough, I’ve already said I think he contributes a lot, but because we need him injury free and ready to go if we make the play-offs. He has played a lot of minutes this season, often up front on his own and often getting kicked all over, so ideally we can get into a couple of comfortable positions between now and the end of the regular season where we are not searching for a late goal and can bring him off and give him a break.
We’ve been short on numbers in the striking department for one reason or another pretty much all season, but it hasn’t been felt much because of the job he has done. It does leave him open to burn out though and that is perhaps why he hasnt scored too many recently, yet we have seen enough this season to remain confident in Ross Stewart’s ability to be a major influence in the coming weeks.
Gary Engel says...
My biggest worry at the start of this season was exactly where our goals were coming from... we had seen enough from Ross Stewart towards the end of last season to know that he had the ability to score 20 plus goals for us this year. However, my concerns were that Stewart can’t be expected to score all of our goals, and what happens if he sustains an injury? Or, as his current run has proved, struggles for form or goals?
It could be argued that perhaps Lee Johnson’s system was centred around playing to Ross Stewart’s strengths? In contrast, Alex Neil has been dealing with Sunderland’s weaknesses and a lack of goals has taken a toll on Stewart’s confidence in the meantime. His chance late on Saturday was a great example of that, at the start of January that opportunity would have been bagged with little thought. While his body language in taking on the chance certainly didn’t suggest he was about to add to his current tally, he seemed laboured and lacking some belief.
Come the final few weeks of last season, I’d have been happier facing the playoffs with a fit and in-form Stewart, over Wyke, but an ill-timed injury somewhat ruled him out in making any sort of impact for us. Perhaps he needs a brief rest, as Embleton’s recent performances have benefited from, and if Nathan Broadhead is closer to match fitness, there’s no reason Neil can’t reshuffle his pack. Form is temporary but class is permanent, and Stewart is arguably the classiest forward in League One.