Tony Mowbray gives update on Ross Stewart's recovery - and what striker told him about his Sunderland future
Ross Stewart is making steady progress in his recovery from injury, with Tony Mowbray adamant that Sunderland won't rush the talismanic striker back until he is fully fit.
Stewart made a sensational start to the season with five goals and three assists in seven appearances before suffering a thigh injury moments before kick-off at Middlesbrough earlier this month.
Diagnosed with a grade three tear, Sunderland anticipated an absence of six to eight weeks for the 26-year-old.
That made a return before the three-week World Cup break in November unlikely, a situation which Mowbray believes still to be the case.
A subsequent injury to Ellis Simms has left the Black Cats without a recognised striker, but having scored five goals in two games and with Amad Diallo settling into life on Wearside, Mowbray and the club hierarchy have opted against bringing in a free agent.
"I think he'll be on the grass before then [World Cup break] but it's just about how quickly he gets up to speed and how he feels in himself," Mowbray said.
"What we wouldn't do is rush him back, thinking 'oh we need him for this game' and it's one game before that international break, for example.
"In that scenario you might as well give him the extra three weeks to be on the training pitch and to get fully up to speed, then you can unleash him against Millwall.
"I don't know for sure at the moment, we'll have to wait and see.
"I would hope that Dan Ballard will be available straight after that World Cup break, so there's positive stuff building for us. We just have to win some football matches between now and then."
The recent international break has given Mowbray a chance to better get to know Stewart, who Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has said he intends to speak with in depth over a new, long-term contract after initial discussions over the summer.
Mowbray says that Stewart, as he did with Alex Neil, has made clear to him that he believes his long-term future is at Sunderland.
"I've had a couple of long chats with Ross now, he's a lovely boy. He's a professional, articulate, bright and clever," Mowbray said.
"We're looking forward to getting him back.
"Speaking to Ross, I think he believes in the right place for him and for his career. I've talked to him about the vehicle, if he keeps scoring goals at the volume and ratio he has, is this the right vehicle for him to showcase [how good he is]. I think we both believe it is, there aren't many stadiums in this league where you can get 40,000 fans giving you that hero worship when you work as hard as he does and bangs in goals like he does.
"It's a fantastic place for him to be, and hopefully he can help this club progress to the Premier League over the coming years. If not, the phone will ring from the Premier League if he keeps scoring goals as he does.
"We'll see how it moves forward, but as a lad I really like him, he's a good kid and he's very much on board with this club."