The stats behind Ross Stewart's start to the season at Sunderland compared to Ipswich and Rotherham strikers

It’s nine league goals and counting for Sunderland striker Ross Stewart this season – but can the newly-named ‘Loch Ness Drogba’ maintain his early-season form as his side push for automatic promotion?

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 4:58 pm

Stewart’s importance to Lee Johnson’s team can’t be underestimated, with right-back Carl Winchester the their second top scorer in the league with three.

There will, therefore, be serious concerns if the striker becomes unavailable for whatever reason, especially with Nathan Broadhead still recovering from a hamstring injury.

Only Morcambe’s Cole Stockton and Ipswich’s Macauley Bonne, both on 10, have scored more times than Stewart in the third tier and, following the Black Cats’ strong start to the campaign, many will be tipping the 25-year-old to finish as the division’s top scorer.

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Ross Stewart celebrates scoring against Crewe.

As you’d expect, Sunderland’s expected goals total (1.57 per 90 minutes) is higher than both Ipswich (1.4 per 90 minutes) and Morecambe (0.92 per 90 minutes), with the aforementioned clubs sitting 13th and 18th in the table respectively.

You could therefore argue Stewart will receive more chances than the players ahead of him in the scoring charts, although Rotherham’s Michael Smith also has nine league goals this season, and is playing for a side who are top of the expected goals table with 2.09 XGs per 90 minutes.

Despite sitting second in the table, Sunderland are fifth when it comes to that metric, with Rotherham, Bolton, Oxford and MK Dons all registering a higher XG total.

For Stewart individually, the striker’s expected goals total is 6.61 in League One this season, so the fact he has already reached nine shows how efficient he has been in front of goal.

The Scot’s shot conversion rate (30 per cent) is higher than Smith (23 per cent) but lower than both Bonne (48 per cent) and Stockton (36 per cent).

While Stewart has been praised for his all-round game, the striker’s aerial presence is clearly a big asset for Sunderland, with four of his nine goals coming from headers.

The four games where Stewart has recorded his lowest expected goals total have come when teams have effectively pressed Sunderland high up the pitch – which is easier said than done.

At Portsmouth – albeit in awful weather conditions – Johnson’s side weren’t allowed to play their preferred passing game, while Accrington Stanley and Wycombe were aggressive from the off when they travelled to the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland did win those two fixtures as their goal threats came from other areas, in the shape of Winchester, Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton, highlighting the fact the team has threats from other areas.

The other game where Stewart noticeably found himself on the fringes was against Gillingham, when the side lacked their usual tempo in possession and were reduced to 10 men following Embleton’s red card.

In contrast, we’ve also seen what can happen when teams try to engage with Sunderland high up the pitch and leave space in behind.

When Stewart netted braces against Cheltenham and Crewe there were opportunities for the Black Cats to run in beyond the opposition’s backline and record convincing victories.

If Sunderland can continue to create chances for their first-choice striker, the stats suggest he will continue to deliver.

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