What Ross Stewart offers Sunderland compared to Charlie Wyke and how Lee Johnson can get the best out of his first-choice striker

In Sunderland’s season opener against Wigan Athletic earlier this month, Black Cats supporters were quick to acknowledge their recently-acquired centre-forward Ross Stewart.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 4:30 pm

The Scottish frontman joined the Black Cats in January but made just 12 appearances due to injury during the 2020/21 campaign.

A pre-season later, the 25-year-old has become the main man at the Stadium of Light, and it helped his reputation that Sunderland’s former forward, Charlie Wyke, led the line for Wigan to kick off the new campaign.

Wyke scored 30 goals in all competitions for Sunderland last term, yet there is a feeling Stewart’s all-round game gives the Black Cats an upgrade.

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Sunderland striker Ross Stewart vs AFC Wimbledon.

Stewart certainly won the battle of the frontman during that Wigan fixture, scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory while Wyke struggled to make an impact.

So what does Stewart offer Sunderland that has got supporters singing his praises?

One of the most appranet traits the striker possesses is his constant movement and ability to drop deep and link up play.

During Sunderland’s 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon last time out, Stewart completed all 23 of his attempted passes, which all came outside the opposition’s penalty area.

Figure One: Ross Stewart's completed passes vs AFC Wimbledon (via Wyscout).

Admittedly, there were times when Stewart’s efforts to move away from the box, either centrally or into the channels, left his side without a focal point, as shown by figure two when Carl Winchester delivered a cross with his centre-forward in close proximity.

There were also times when Stewart needed team-mates to run beyond him after drawing out the opposition’s centre-backs, yet the tactic almost worked perfectly when the striker released Alex Pritchard in the second half, yet the latter failed to hit the target (figure three).

The striker also helps Sunderland’s defenders and midfielder when they are searching for a forward pass, without aimlessly punting the ball upfield.

In figure four, Stewart dropped deep to exchange passes with Winchester and create space for the full-back. The latter then played a more probing pass into Stewart which allowed the striker to advance into the penalty area.

Figure Two: Carl Winchester's cross into the penalty area with Ross Stewart in close proximity (Wyscout).

So how does Stewart’s contribution compare to Wyke’s?

First of all, despite the latter’s diminished reputation on Wearside, he still deserves credit for scoring 30 goals last term.

Also, the perception that Wyke offered little else apart from scoring goals isn’t entirely true.

In League One last season, the 28-year-old averaged 16.1 passes per game, with a 77 per cent accuracy. In comparison, albeit with a smaller sample size, Stewart has averaged 13.65 passes per game in Sunderland’s first four league fixtures this campaign, registering a 86.4 per cent accuracy.

Figure Three: Ross Stewart drops deep before releasing Alex Pritchard into space (Wyscout).

Interestingly, though, Stewart is receiving more passes to feet, and Sunderland’s attempted long passes per game has dropped from an average of 60 per game last season to 55.5 per game in the league this season.

Ultimately, though, a striker’s job is to score goals, and Sunderland will need to improve the supply line to Stewart to give their frontman more opportunities.

Against Wimbledon, just two of the Black Cats’ nine crosses were met by another red and white shirt (figure five).

As we’ve seen during his short spell on Wearside, Stewart, a towering figure, is a threat in the air and often finds himself in promising goalscoring positions.

Sunderland will hope to see more of that throughout the campaign.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Figure Four: Ross Stewart exchanges passes with Carl Winchester to create space for the Sunderland full-back (Wyscout).

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Figure Five: Sunderland's crosses vs AFC Wimbledon. Red = successful. White = unsuccessful (Wyscout),