How do you make a bad situation better?
After Ross Stewart’s unceremonious exit at Fulham with a suspected achilles injury, early indications suggest that we’re set to be without our talismanic forward for at least the rest of the season.
However, is there a way that we can turn a negative into a positive?
Firstly, we must start by acknowledging the fact that being without our leading scorer is a hefty price to pay, but as we’ve shown before, we can still find the back of the net with or without the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’.
Situations like this arise in football for most other clubs and despite Sunderland not being ‘most other clubs’, we can be no different in how we approach such setbacks. In a perverse way, amid the obvious anxiety and frustration, there’s a route to greater success.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Stewart’s new contract.
Right now, fears that he’ll leave for another club are quelled with the worry of losing him for six months or more at an all-time high. Given the nature of these injuries, rehab will be tough going and interest from elsewhere will surely fade as clubs assess whether he has the ability to return to peak form.
This could play into our hands, despite representing a risk.
As a club, we know how good Stewart is and we also know how well he recovers from injury. Therefore, a new contract could be a smart play should he make a successful return.
Also, with external interest sure to hit a lull, now may be the time to force the hand of our leading man and secure his services on a longer-term deal.
The other potential upside is a solution to a problem that’s loomed in the background since the start of the season.
Signing second choice strikers is difficult, and signing third choice forwards is even harder.
As we’ve seen in the past, recruiting such players isn’t easy as the football on offer can’t be guaranteed. With Stewart injured and Joe Gelhardt only on loan, now is a great time to dip into the market in order to secure a second, long-term option up front.
Being able to offer guaranteed minutes with the option of continuing such a run into next season will be a tempting offer for many strikers who are eager to secure a starting berth at a well-placed club.
With the obvious choice being Ellis Simms, we can use this temporary setback to secure their long-term future up front. After all, the potential of being Sunderland’s leading man for six months and beyond is tantalising.
Beyond the obvious, this also represents a great chance for Kristjaan Speakman and company to continue their stellar work.
We’ve played some scintillating football at times and with that comes an added enticement when recruiting players. What’s more, given the quality of football and our current league position, the risk of going down seems to be negligible so any decisions can be made firmly with another Championship season in mind.
With a minimal amount of pressure, it offers the recruitment team a unique opportunity to explore avenues they might otherwise not have done.
All in all, Stewart potentially being injured for the remainder of the season can be seen as a disaster, especially for those who might be contemplating a second successive playoff push.
However, due to some rather intensive succession planning and early movement during this transfer window, it could be argued that should Speakman make the right moves and make them swiftly, this could easily be a case of one step backwards and two steps forward.
Nobody wants to be without the Scottish striker, but this doesn’t have to be the disaster it might’ve been.