Ross Stewart was a key factor in firing Sunderland to promotion from League One and back into the Championship at the fourth time of asking. The Scotland international scored 24 goals in 46 appearances during the regular season, but was on form in the play-offs, notching a strike in Sunderland’s narrow win over Sheffield Wednesday in their semi-final clash. He then scored the decisive strike in a 2–0 triumph over Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley Stadium to secure their place back in the Championship.
Overjoyed Sunderland fans pictured moments after Ross Stewart put the Wearsiders 2-0 up here at Wembley pic.twitter.com/Z3lv3Nus9p
— Layth (@laythy29) May 21, 2022
The 26-year-old has already made an impact in the second tier, notable for his prowess in front of goal and link-up play in the final third. His performance alone is one of the reasons why Sunderland are backed at 6/1 in the odds on the English Football League Championship to be relegated from the second tier, being perceived as a mid-table side by the bookmakers.
However, some have considered the Black Cats to be the dark horses in the Championship tips to make a run towards the play-offs. Stewart’s form will be crucial for a potential challenge, and of course, to help avoid a return to League One. The Scotland international does have one year remaining on his contract, and the club will be keen to tie him down for the long term. Sunderland do have the option to extend his current deal at the end of the season, and unless they can come to an agreement on a new contract before then, it will be almost certainly be triggered. Alex Neil has already heavily praised his leading man for the standard of his Championship performances, and should those continue, it will not be long before Premier League clubs become interested in his services.
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) August 21, 2022
Sides of the ilk of Bournemouth, Brighton and Wolves should be looking at his form with interest, and not just because of his record in front of goal. Stewart’s performance leading the line in Sunderland’s narrow defeat against Sheffield United highlighted his value to the team. He chased down every lost cause and was a handful for the Blades all evening. When required, Stewart was clinical, releasing Lynden Gooch with an incisive pass to allow the American to find the back of the net with a sublime chip. It is not common for a player of the height of Stewart (who stands at 6ft 2in) to possess the guile that he has on the ball. For progressive teams such as Brighton, he would tick a lot of boxes.
From Sunderland’s perspective, if Stewart were to continue his form he would certainly attract a significant transfer fee; perhaps in the region of the £20m they received for Jordan Henderson in 2011 from Liverpool. But the impact of his loss would affect their ability to compete for a return to the Premier League. He is the closest player that they have had in the final third to Niall Quinn, who displayed great control and guile along with predatory instincts when required. Stewart has not matched Quinn’s production in the second tier yet, but he is arguably a better finisher than the former Sunderland forward and chairman. Stewart should be watched intently, not only from a transfer perspective but also because his style is very easy on the eye. He could be a stand-out in the Championship in the 2022/23 campaign.