Rangers, Norwich and Swansea City target Ross Stewart will be in demand this summer after stunning Sunderland campaign
To my mind, Ross Stewart has been Sunderland’s best player this season.
The tall Scot bagged 24 goals during the regular League One season and was second only to Will Keane, the main man for champions Wigan Athletic.
It has to be said that Stewart possesses tremendous skill and ability above his current level.
He can finish, he is decent in the air, good defensively from opposition corners, runs the channels intelligently and always provides an option to his teammates.
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Consider too that Stewart has played more minutes (4,505) than any other Sunderland player in League One this campaign and sits sixth overall in the third tier behind four goalkeepers and a centre-back.
But perhaps what has made Stewart so good this season has been his general attitude and work rate. Indeed, Alex Neil has alluded to it several times in recent weeks.
It seems a lifetime ago now but prior to Sunderland’s win against Morecambe, Stewart was in the midst of an eight-game goal drought.
But Neil was never worried, as he explained following Stewart’s brace against the Shrimpers: “I didn't know how long it was. Eight games?
"I didn't realise it was as long as that. Ross is our number nine, he leads the line and he's a good striker. He's scored 24 goals this season, and that's a great return.
"Even if he goes through a little spell where he doesn't score, as long as he is contributing to the team and he's doing what's asked of him, that's fine.
"During that spell, I'm conscious of the fact that we haven't played with natural [right and left] footers playing down the respective flanks.
"So the deliveries haven't helped him at times, because that isn't the kind of player he is. I'm aware of that, but we have still won games. What I have said to Ross is that he needs to do his job for the team, and then when we can do the job for you then great. We just need to adapt, and he has adapted great."
Stewart’s willingness to adapt and sacrifice himself for the greater good has certainly not gone unnoticed.
And it is interesting to see how Stewart is willing to play a different role when Nathan Broadhead has been fit, often dropping slightly deeper to link the play and allow the Everton loanee to operate on the shoulder of the last man.
Another interesting caveat to Stewart’s season comes from a look into the numbers. Given the chances he has had, Stewart was projected to contribute 29.7 goals and assists but has actually contributed 28 overall.
A very healthy figure and a sign that Stewart is performing well given the chances he has received/created.
Failure to win promotion, though, could well mean Stewart moves on at the end of the season, a scenario no Sunderland fan currently wants.