Ross Stewart reveals his thoughts on Charlie Wyke comparisons and his 'Loch Ness Drogba' nickname at Sunderland
Ross Stewart says he’s embracing the pressure of being Sunderland’s first-choice striker this season but won’t compare himself to former Black Cats’ frontman Charlie Wyke.
Stewart has made an excellent start to the 2021/22 campaign, scoring four goals in his first five league games which included a brace against Wycombe.
After joining the Black Cats in January from Scottish side Ross County, the striker made just 12 appearances for his new club last season due to a hamstring injury.
But after a full pre-season with the Wearsiders, the 25-year-old now believes fans are seeing the best of him in a red and white shirt.
“When I came in, it was a really frustrating period for myself,” Stewart told the Echo following Sunderland’s 3-1 win over Wycombe. “I was fighting with the injury I had, and then other wee niggles kept cropping up too.
"To get that full pre-season has done me the world of good, and I think you can see that with my performances. Fitness wise, I feel really good and really fit.
"Hopefully, I can keep ticking off the games and stay healthy, and then the fans can see the best of me throughout the season.”
Despite only arriving earlier this year, Stewart admits he now feels like one of the senior players at Sunderland following this summer’s recruitment drive.
“There’s been quite a big turnover in the squad, so there’s been a lot of new faces,” the striker added.
"Maybe with a lot of new faces, it helps you settle because, although it sounds daft, I’m now one of the ones that’s been here a bit longer. Since I came in January, the lads in there made it easy to settle.
"It was always just a case of, ‘Can I get fit and show them what I can do on the pitch?’ I think now, with me being settled and having had a good pre-season, you’re seeing the best of me.”
Stewart has been tasked with the challenge of scoring the goals which Wyke provided last season, 30 in all competitions, before the latter’s move to Wigan.
Comparisons have inevitably been made between the two, while many feel Stewart’s all-round game is better than his fellow striker.
“I always back myself to do well,” replied Stewart when asked about Wyke’s departure and becoming Sunderland’s first-choice frontman. “Charlie obviously had a great season here last year, his goal return was immense, so they’re big shoes to fill.
"But I’m not going to compare myself to him. I’m my own player. I’m just looking to do well personally, and hopefully I can do that. I’ve started well, and the team has started well, and long may that continue.”
Stewart is also trying to relish the expectations which come when representing a club like Sunderland and playing in front of 30,000 supporters at the Stadium of Light.
“When I’ve grown up playing football, this is what I’ve been after,“ the striker added. “I want to be playing at a big club, having pressure to score goals and go and win games. I’ve always asked questions of myself personally – can I cope with that and relish it?
“I’ve never played for a club as big as this or in front of a home crowd as big as this one, but I’m thriving off it. I love it.
“The fans are brilliant down here, the team has started well, and I’ve started well too. I feel really comfortable, and it can only go upwards from here.”
After playing games behind closed doors for most of last season, Stewart says the supporters’ impact shouldn’t be underestimated as Sunderland push for promotion.
The Black Cats have won all three of their home games so far this campaign and Stewart hopes the club can make their home ground a fortress.
"The fans play a huge part. Speaking personally, for me, they certainly give me an extra five or ten per cent,” the striker admitted.
"The noise they make, they really lift the boys. You can see that and I think they see the hard work the lads are putting in as well.
“We’re kind of bouncing off each other, which I think is a really good balance. I’m sure if we can keep playing well and keep winning, they’ll keep increasing their numbers as well and it can only be a win-win for all of us."
Stewart’s impressive performances have earned the striker a new nickname among Sunderland fans, with many labelling him 'The Loch Ness Drogba.’
So what does Stewart make of the tag?
“I’ve been told about the nickname. A few of the lads have had a bit of banter with it,” he said.
“I love it though, I think it’s a cracker. Whoever came up with it deserves a bit of credit. I’ve certainly been called worse, on and off the pitch. I’m happy to go with it."
After going top of League One by beating Wycombe, Sunderland will now have two weeks to prepare for their next League One fixture at home to Acctington Stanley on Saturday, September 11.
That is because the Black Cats’ trip at Sheffield Wednesday was postponed due to international call-ups in both squads.
“There’s pros and cons to it,” replied Stewart when asked about the break.
“It’ll be nice to get a couple of days break because it’s been a really hectic start for us, twice a week since the season started.
“At the same time, when you’re on that winning run, you just want the games to keep coming and keep winning. We’ll use it, take the wee rest period that we’ve got, and be ready for a week on Saturday.”