Alex Neil's upbeat Ross Stewart assessment as Sunderland striker search continues

Alex Neil is confident that Ross Stewart has all the attributes to get amongst the goals in the Championship this season.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 5th August 2022, 6:00 am

Stewart went close to scoring on his second-tier debut against Coventry City on his second-tier debut, denied early in the second half only by an excellent Simon Moore save.

City boss Mark Robins said afterwards that the Scot, who scored 26 goals last season, was 'a real handful'.

Sunderland's head coach said last week that he was confident that Stewart would in the not too distant future sign a new long-term deal, handing a major boost to the club. Though the club have the option to extend his current deal until the summer of 2024, they want to reward his progress with fresh terms.

Sunderland striker Ross Stewart

Stewart is being tracked by a number of clubs across the UK, but Neil says Stewart has told him he is happy on Wearside.

He's hopeful and confident that the 26-year-old can enjoy a successful season, even if matching last year’s tally at a higher level will clearly be difficult.

"Ross will want to score as many goals as he can.

"What he is is really mobile, he's 6ft 4in, he's very good in the air, his link-up is getting better and better all the time, and his movement in the box is great.

"I'm sure that if we can provide chances for Ross, he'll score goals.

I think to replicate 26 goals at Championship level would be an incredible achievement because there are not many strikers who are capable of that.

"Equally, we need to create enough chances for Ross to get his goals.

"He had a phenomenal year last year, he will be really looking forward to this season - and rightly so.

"I don't have any worries individually about my players.

"Each of them will go and attack the season, it's just collectively how strong will we be in comparison to the other teams?

"We know we still have work to do in terms of strengthening the squad.

"Ross is now a full international, which is great, and he has come up the hard way in that he spent time in non-league and then worked his way up through the divisions to get to where he is.

"Those kind of stories are great, aren't they?

"When you see somebody who has worked that hard to get where he is, and hopefully he will get all the rewards that he deserves and I'm very hopeful that he will have a really good year."

Neil admits he relishes working with a player who has had to fight their way up to the upper ranks of professional football.

"I think there's a grittiness about those players," he said.

If you get handed anything and it's easy, where does that desire come from?

"Don't get me wrong, there are some players who are unbelievably motivated, but I do think there are some players who, when they've had a bit of rejection along the way and they have fought to get where they are, there is a grittiness to those kind of people that I like."

Though Neil has managed to strengthen his forward options with the arrival of Ellis Simms, he has said that he 'definitely' wants to add a third striker to his ranks.