The contract talks that are as crucial to Sunderland as any incoming transfer deal

A smattering of frustrated boos from the Stoke City supporters and then the unmistakable sound of Belinda Carlisle thundering out from the 2,600-strong away end.
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If anything summed up Ross Stewart's early impact in the Championship, it was this. Because this had arguably been his toughest half of the campaign so far, the Scot one of many who had looked lethargic after a punishing second half with ten men at Bramall Lane just days previous.

Yet all he needed was once chance to spin in behind the defence, and Sunderland were ahead.

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Any doubts about how Stewart would adapt to step up have been well and truly dispelled even if some leaner spells for player and club across the course of a long campaign are inevitable.

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His boss actually thinks the Scot has got better, noting that his link-up play has improved 'dramatically' over the course of the summer. Take Ellis Simms' second goal against Bristol City, for example. A neat exchange with Alex Pritchard opening up the home defence. Stewart can come deep to compete and link up play, or he can run the channels. He can score, he can assist.

He is an integral part of Sunderland's short, medium and long-term plans, and a player you can be sure is on a myriad transfer shortlists across the country. He was being scouted extensively by clubs last season and that will only increase in the current weeks and months.

It means that securing Stewart's new contract over the next few months is as important to the club as any incoming transfer (and yes, they need a good few of those).

Ross Stewart fires Sunderland into the lead at Stoke CityRoss Stewart fires Sunderland into the lead at Stoke City
Ross Stewart fires Sunderland into the lead at Stoke City
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Which isn't to say that there is at this stage cause for alarm. Though Stewart is technically in the last year of his current deal, Sunderland have a clause to extend automatically for another year. This gives them significant protection against any move either in the last days of the window or in January.

And speaking on the eve of the new season, Neil said that he had held talks with Stewart and had been left 'pretty sure' the situation would be resolved.Stewart, Neil said, was content, settled and looking forward to the challenge of the Championship. That the 26-year-old has been so unaffected by the transfer speculation over the last six months is further testament to his drive, character and application.

There's no doubt that Sunderland is an ideal place for Stewart right now. He is starting week in, week out, and significantly is doing so at the same level as many of his competitors for a place in the Scotland XI.Sunderland have been absolutely clear that their model will at some stage mean selling players. That will in fact represent success, profit then being reinvested to drive sustainable growth.

Stewart could well be one of significant examples of that if his current trajectory continues. Now is not the right time, though. His role in the team is too important, and his value is still a fraction of what it could be in the long run.

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It's why a new deal would be celebrated on Wearside as much as any new incoming. There are a lot more special afternoons to unfold in this story, and it's encouraging that Stewart seems to see it the same way.