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Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One

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There is a striking difference about the team this year

As we head to Plymouth today for yet another play-off “six-pointer,” much of the talk has been around the time we have been scoring vital goals. However, we also need to look at just who is scoring them.

Striking for promotion - Stewart and Broadhead remain a deadly duo
| Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland have been, well, Sunderland in recent weeks, leaving the fans with our hearts in our mouths before a series of late goals which have rescued games and points which keep us firmly in the hunt for the play-offs.

What is, I suppose, encouraging about much of this is that we are doing this without our top scorer Ross Stewart. Nathan Broadhead has come back and hit the ground running; Elliot Embleton has pitched in with key strikes against Oxford and Shrewsbury; and even Cory Evans has chipped in with a goal.

I think if we judge Stewart simply by the number of goals he has scored (or hasn’t) we do him a great disservice.

Stewart has brought such a new threat to the side. He is the type of striker we have long needed in the respect that he has the ability to hold the ball up and for a tall, target man he is also brilliant with his feet.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yes there has to be some debate about why he hasn’t found the net in the past few games, given we now have a team with two dedicated and skilful wide men, and wingbacks who can pick a cross. But there is a convincing case that his mere presence is occupying the opposition’s centre backs to the point that it is making space and opportunity for others.

Broadhead brings a different sphere to our strike force. He like Stewart is a class act in this division and I would venture they would replicate that success in the Championship.

Like all great strikers, Broadhead will commit to runs on the expectation that the ball will arrive. All to often it doesn’t, but the old strikers’ adage is that if you keep getting into the positions, the goals will come.

What is great is that at present we have goals all over the team, Clarke, Embo, Gooch, Roberts, Winchester, and Evans to name but a few. However I think that we cannot ignore the potential of the front two.

They are two young and very skilful proponents of the art of goalscoring and bring with them very different but complimentary skills.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

They have the potential - and I say potential - to be the best striking two duo we have had at the club since the mighty Quinn and Phillips. I always thought Gyan and Bent would have been terrific, but Bent left the club too soon after Gyan’s arrival for that pairing to deliver.

It is why I hope we can get out of this league this season.

Championship football might be a level on which we can get Stewart to sign a new contract, and also a level where Broadhead would consider leaving Everton to ply his trade with the promise of more regular first team action.

Both players are likely to be in demand at the end of the season, but if Alex Neil can get the two to commit next year they might just be a pairing around which we can build a team - perhaps even replicating the success of some of the teams fighting at the right end of that particular table this season.


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