How Jack Ross helped revive career of Sunderland-linked Gavin Reilly and what he could add to squad

Last summer Gavin Reilly, who has been linked with a move to Sunderland, set himself a target of scoring 15 goals in all competitions for his new club St Mirren.

Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 11:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 11:56 am
Gavin Reilly.

It was a total which he would surpass before Christmas, as he helped the Paisley club to the Scottish Championship title.

In total, he would net on 22 occasions - 11 in the league - as Jack Ross's side swept all before them in a dominant season.

Gavin Reilly.

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For Reilly, it marked a turnaround in fortunes after a difficult few seasons marked by injury, inactivity and limited returns in front of goal.

The Dumfries-born striker began his career at his hometown club, Queen of the South, where he bagged 12 league goals as the Palmerston men secured promotion from League One.

The step-up to the Championship didn't appear to affect Reilly as he scored 12 again the following season and 13 in 2014-15 as Queen's challenged in the top half of the table.

Aged only 22 and with three remarkably consistent seasons behind him, Reilly caught the attention of then-Hearts manager Robbie Neilson, who signed him to a three-year deal.

Gavin Reilly.

While young strikers can often struggle to maintain form over a long season, Reilly had proven to be impressively reliable, year after year.

For Hearts, the allure of such a confident goalscorer was allied to his workrate outside the box, where a willingness to press from the front suited Neilson's approach.

Unfortunately for the striker, opportunities at Tynecastle were few and far between. He scored only four goals in 11 starts in his only season in the top flight and struggled to adapt to the level.

A loan to second-tier club Dunfermline for season 2016/17 was supposed to kick-start his career, but it proved ineffective. Injuries hampered his season and Reilly found it difficult to maintain a run in the starting line-up. A return of only two goals - only one of which came in the league - marked the nadir of his career to date.

Sunderland manager Jack Ross.

Opinion among supporters was understandably mixed when he signed for St Mirren in the close season.

Jack Ross was building a side aiming to challenge for promotion and while a pre-Hearts Reilly would have been welcomed with open arms, he was less enthusiastically greeted on the back of two worryingly barren seasons.

Credit then to both Ross's management and Reilly's fortitude that the earlier version of the striker reappeared last campaign.

He scored in the opening fixture of the season, against Stranraer in the League Cup, and then in the first league game of the season. After that, he never looked back.

While he possesses a dangerous turn of pace, Reilly has developed an impressive ability to find space in tight areas.

Many of his goals last season came from subtly drifting out of the eye-line of defenders or creating room in the box with a good first touch.

He also combined effectively with fellow striker Cammy Smith, as he did with Nicky Clark at Queen of the South.

Should he sign for Sunderland, it's certainly within his capabilities to become a success at the Stadium of Light.

While he has yet to truly prove himself at a level above the Scottish Championship, he possesses the skill and ability - and perhaps, more importantly, the mental strength - to build on last season's form.

- By Andy Harrow