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16.34 aerial duels per game: Have this Sunderland man’s early season performances shown he can replace departed key player

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After a promising start to the season, Sunderland’s latest push for promotion from League One hit it’s first stumbling block on Tuesday night.

Following wins over Wigan and MK Dons in their first two games, a 1-0 defeat to Burton on Tuesday handed Sunderland their first defeat of the season.

That is something Lee Johnson’s side will want to bounce back from quickly, as they aim to finally secure a return to the Championship in 2021/22, at the fourth time of asking.

One key man whose services they will not be able to call upon as they look to do that this time around, is Charlie Wyke.

Following his 31-goal season for Sunderland during 2020/21, the striker left the club earlier this summer when his contract at the Stadium of Light came to an end, subsequently joining Wigan.

In Wyke’s absence, it has been Ross Stewart, a January 2021 signing from Ross County, who has stepped in to lead the line for Sunderland so far this season.

But is Stewart capable of filling the void left by Wyke at the head of Sunderland’s attack this season?

Here, we’ve put the spotlight on the 25-year-old’s performances for the Black Cats throughout the campaign so far, in order to try and find out.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Sunderland only completed the signing of a striker earlier this week – with 23-year-old Nathan Broadhead joining on loan from Everton – Stewart has featured in all three of the Black Cats’ games this season.

Given his role as a centre forward, Stewart’s main job is of course to score goals, and he has made an encouraging start with those efforts, netting in both of Sunderland’s wins this season, both of which have come by a one-goal margin, highlighting the importance of his contribution.

Away from the goals though, the all-round signs also appear to be promising for Sunderland when it comes to what they can expect from Stewart this season.

So far this season, 50% of Stewart’s shots have been on target, and given that is only slightly lower than Wyke’s shots on target percentage of last season (55.6%), you feel that if Sunderland are able to give him the chances, then Stewart has the potential to make a fairly similar impact to Wyke in front of goal.

Indeed, much of Wyke’s success for Sunderland last season, was due to his ability to get on the end of chances inside the opposition penalty area.

The fact therefore, that Stewart’s average of 4.32 touches in the opposition box per game is slightly higher than Wyke’s average of 4.23 during the 2020/21 campaign, should certainly be encouraging from a Black Cats persuasion.

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Furthermore, with Stewart averaging 16.34 aerial duels per game already this season, it also seems clear that he is willing to put his head on the line for the side, something that all fans will like to see from their players.

With the presence of Aiden McGeady out wide also meaning that there ought to be plenty of crosses into the box for Stewart to attack, the fact that the 25-year-old is willing to put himself about in the air means the Black Cats should see plenty of opportunities come their way via that particular route of attack.

One area of concern however, if Stewart’s percentage of offensive duels won this season, which at 12.5%, is some way short of Wyke’s success rate of 25.8% from last season, which could reduce Sunderland’s attacking threat in that respect.

Even so, it is hard not to feel that overall, the signs are promising for Sunderland if they choose to look to Stewart to fill the void left by Wyke this season.

Given the pressure that is on them to finally secure a return to the Championship in the next few months, they will certainly hope that sort of form continues.


UCLan Sports Journalism graduate, been writing for Football League World since March 2019. I've previously worked for the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Opta, among others.

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: 16.34 aerial duels per game: Have this Sunderland man’s early season performances shown he can replace departed key player

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