Ross Stewart opens up on his breakthrough Sunderland performance and why it showed what he can bring to Wearside

Reflecting on Sunderland's 3-1 win over Plymouth Argyle, Lee Johnson noted that circumstances had left a lot of players on the pitch with a point to prove.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 6:00 am

Leading the line in the absence of 30-goal Charlie Wyke, Ross Stewart was certainly one of those.

Since a debut goal at Accrington Stanley, Stewart has for the most part been forced to settle for a place on the bench and a late cameo.

Often, it's been in those moments that Sunderland have been desperately changing a goal and with that has come a direct style that might suit Stewart's height, but not necessarily his all-round game.

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Ross Stewart puts Sunderland ahead at Home Park
Ross Stewart puts Sunderland ahead at Home Park

Throughout this contest Stewart was a menace for the Plymouth defence.

He took his goal superbly, timing his run behind the host's high line to perfection and finishing with conviction when Michael Cooper erred in creating the angle for him.

The only frustration for the 24-year-old was that he could not extend his tally further, denied by the crossbar with a good header in the second half.

"When you're running on the angle you just want to try and keep it low and get it on target, and it was nice to see it go in," Stewart said.

"I thought we started well so it was good to get the goal while we're on top and to be honest, I thought we were really good all through the first half.

"Same at the start of the second half, but then obviously Plymouth have a spell and equalise. I thought our reaction to that was top drawer, the red card helped but overall it was a really good day.

"I don't want to be unhappy with myself but you always want to score as many as you can as a striker and I definitely could have had another one or two.

"But, I know if I keep getting in those positions I'll hit the back of the net."

Stewart was perhaps aided in playing against a defence that has struggled of late, but what was notable throughout was not just his willingness to make those runs in behind, but also to press aggressively.

"I think you've seen more of my game today," Stewart said.

"I've been here a while now but even so I'm still learning the manager's ways, his pressing triggers and all those kinds of things.

"When you start the game the situation is obviously slightly different to when you're coming on and the team is chasing a goal.

"Hopefully I've been able to show more of what I've got today in terms of my all-round game. But at the same time, as a striker you're always going to be judged on goals so to get that is nice as well."

Stewart's January move from Ross County was a major step for the player, both on and off the pitch.

First and foremost is the switch in mindset, the shift in pressure for playing in a side nearer the lower reaches of the table to one where regular wins are an absolute must.

"I've loved that, loved it," Stewart said.

"As a player these are the situations you want to be in.

"I've moved from a club probably looking more to stay in the league they're in, to one looking to get promoted.

"The mindset changes because every game you go into looking to win, and I'm enjoying that pressure.

"I'm enjoying playing for a club of this size and I want to keep showing what I'm about.

"When you play at a club like Sunderland there's always going to be expectation. I'm aware of that but at the same time, I expect a lot of myself.

"I know what I can do when I get on the park so it's about trying to show that. I hope I've shown a bit of that today and hopefully I can show more of it going forward because there's some big games to come."

On the pitch there's a shift in emphasis, too.

Stewart was often used out wide at Ross County and even when playing through the middle, the demands of a side fighting relegation are very different.

There was a reflection of this early in the game, Johnson frustrated when a ball into the centre of the box just evaded Stewart, the head coach urging him to get across his marker.

"There's definitely a difference," Stewart said.

"From the tactical side when you're a striker at Sunderland you're in the game a lot more. A lot of your work is done in the opposition box rather than on the halfway line trying to hold the ball up.

"I'm getting back to almost learning that side of the game and hopefully over a longer spell I can start to flourish in terms of what the manager wants from me."

Sunderland are set to monitor Wyke's thigh issue over the coming days, the results of which will clearly impact Stewart's likely game time in the final weeks of the season.

This performance will nevertheless have given his head coach plenty to ponder.

"It's part of my job to start ready so when I got the shout that Charlie wasn't travelling I just had to get my mind right," he said.

"It was just about getting out there and doing what I do to help the boys.

"It was nice to be able to do that today, get the goal and get the win.

"It's part of the job. Charlie's form has been unbelievable this year so as a striker you know when he's scoring it's going to be tough to get a start.

"You have to be ready for days like today, where it's unexpected and you get your chance.

"Hopefully I've given the manager a bit of a headache with my performance. Whether it's me and Charlie, Charlie coming back in, whatever, I'll be ready to give it my best."

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