Ross Stewart has this upbeat message as he prepares to lead Sunderland into the League One campaign

It had been a positive pre-season campaign for Ross Stewart, one on which the only thing missing had been a goal.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 6:00 am

And the Scot knows better than anyone that as a striker, that is the metric on which he ultimately will be judged (and will judge himself).

Stewart has shown the athleticism that saw Sunderland invest a six-figure transfer fee to bring him from Ross County in January, stretching the opposition defence and bringing the club's talented attacking midfield players into the game and close to the opposition box.

The penalty he won at Hearts, surging into the opposition box and beating the goalkeeper to an Aiden McGeady through ball, was an example of the kind of move Sunderland hope can vary their threat this season.

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Ross Stewart celebrates his goal against Hull City

The composure with which he took his goal against Hull City will, for player and supporters, encourage hope that he has ready to take up some of the mantle left by Charlie Wyke.

"It's been a really good pre-season," Stewart said.

"Obviously since I've arrived at the club I've had some problems fitness wise so to get a full pre-season under my belt, it's done me the world of good.

"I feel fit, I feel sharp, and I think you could see that against Hull.

"I could have had had more, and as a striker you always remember the missed chances but honestly, I'm not worried.

"I'd be more worried if I wasn't getting in the positions to score, the goals will come and that's the first one there tonight.

"Hopefully that's the platform to go and score more, and I can take that into next week."

Stewart arrived at the club needing time to fully recover from a hamstring injury, but also to get used to a new role and style of play.

Shifting from a side battling relegation, where he was often operating deep and out wide, to one generally dominating possession in the opposition half.

There were signs of progress being made in the latter stages of last season and pre-season has helped to accelerate that adaptation.

"The manager has been able to drill into every one of us exactly how he wants to play, so we're all well-read on what's expected of us each game and how he wants us to carry out our roles," Stewart said.

"Every game up to now we've been able to do that and come a week's time, it's about having that trust and belief in each other.

"I think we can do really well.

"I've had more game-time, more time to work with the manager, more training sessions under my belt.

"That just comes through experience and every game you learn more about your role.

"That is something that will keep going through the season as well, because I'm always looking to pick up things and improve my game.

"I think this is the right place for me and I'm looking forward to it."

The quality of Sunderland's attacking play has been one of the bright spots of pre-season, with Elliot Embleton particularly impressive.

It was Embleton who provided the assist for Stewart's opener against Hull City and one of Lee Johnson's key goals is to ensure his forward options are in the right positions to benefit from that service.

"The players behind me have real quality so it's all about getting into those positions like I was able to for the goal," Stewart said.

"Embo's through ball was quality, and from that position you just try and concentrate on hitting the target and if you can do that, hopefully you'll score more than you miss.

"The way the team is set up, we've got a really squad here, and hopefully we can add one or two and that's the plan.

"But going into next week, to go and beat a team in the league above is a big confidence boost."

Here Stewart gets to the heart of Sunderland's pre-season campaign.

From the players in position it has been encouraging, but there are clear gaps in the squad.

At the moment, the concern is less about individual quality and more about strength in depth.

"You've hit the nail on the head," he said.

"Right now the squad we have is looking really good but we just need that bit more. That's been spoken about within the club and I know they're looking to add that.

"We know we to do that because it's a long, tough season and hopefully injuries don't hurt us too much this season."

One of the areas Sunderland intend to strengthen is those forward areas.

Will Grigg looks increasingly likely to stay, with assistant head coach Jamie McAllister praising the forward effusively after his last-minute winner against Hull on Friday night.

Sheffield United youngster Daniel Jebbison was watching on as he did so at the Stadium of Light; as the club hold talks with the talented striker over a potential loan.

There is a desire, then, to ensure that Stewart is not carrying too much of the burden through the campaign.

All the same, he seems certain to start against Wigan Athletic and he knows the expectation will be that he brings goals.

"I know there's going to be pressure on me this season but I just take that in my stride, I always put pressure on myself to do well anyway," he says.

"This will be no different so my focus will just be on taking each game and performing, and hopefully the goals will come from that."

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