LEE JOHNSON is confident Ross Stewart can form an effective attacking partnership with Charlie Wyke – and is adamant it is not a case of having to play one striker or the other in the remaining 11 games of the season.

Stewart’s Sunderland career took some time to get going after he arrived from Ross County nursing a hamstring injury, but he belatedly announced his arrival in fine style a week-and-a-half ago when he left the bench to score the opening goal in the Black Cats’ 2-0 win at Accrington.

He made his second substitute appearance during last weekend’s home draw with Lincoln City, but while he displayed some neat touches in the closing stages of the game, he will struggle to dislodge Wyke from the starting line-up given the Teessider’s sensational form since the turn of the year.

It had looked like Stewart’s main role in the final two months of the season would be as a ‘super-sub’, but Johnson does not believe that will be the case. Instead, the Sunderland head coach insists he would be perfectly happy to play Stewart alongside Wyke in the same starting line-up, or even as a wide attacker in a three-pronged forward line.

“We signed Ross because I really do believe that him and Charlie can play together,” said Johnson. “I think they’re actually very different in their attributes. Ross is a runner who gets across people. He’s one of those that almost flicks it on and catches it himself.

“He’s got to be on the move, and is different to Charlie in the way he carries the ball and the way he holds play up. Obviously, he’s big and can win flick-ons, and I think there was a chance at Accrington where Ross won the flick-on and Charlie ended up flicking it over the keeper, only for it to not quite have enough power to get past the defender covering on the line.

“That shows what they can do together though, and don’t forget Ross can also play off the left in a 4-3-3, cutting in on his right. It gives us that option just to go over the midfield if we need to. For me, both of them can definitely play together in the same team, and it should be a real strength for us. We’re very flexible, and a lot of that comes down to the flexibility of people like Ross, Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien.”

Both Stewart and Wyke were part of the squad that travelled to Bristol today, with Sunderland’s preparations for tomorrow's game at the Memorial Ground having been hampered by a coronavirus scare at the start of the week.

Two unnamed members of the Black Cats’ senior playing and coaching group tested positive for Covid– one is a player who has not been lining up in the starting side recently – and the entire squad were forced to have a new series of tests. Thankfully, they all came back negative, limiting the impact on tomorrow’s game.

“We had a bit of a Covid situation with one of our members, we won’t reveal who at the moment,” confirmed Johnson. “The boys had to be tested, which meant they had an extra day where they couldn’t come in, even though they worked at home, physically.

“Since the two cases, everybody has returned back negative, which is good. One was from a player that hasn’t been in the squad a lot recently and has been injured. We had a good training game against Gateshead during the week, which was good, and then we’ve just been trying to get the preparation right for the weekend.”

Denver Hume played for 45 minutes of the Gateshead game, but instead of being involved tomorrow, the full-back has been pencilled in for an Under-23s outing against Burnley on Monday as he continues to build his fitness back up after recovering from a serious hamstring injury.

Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan remain a couple of weeks away from a first-team return, while Jordan Jones also looks set to miss out tomorrow, along with Conor McLaughlin, who is on international duty with Northern Ireland. “Jordan is close," said Johnson. "It’s probably 70-30 against him playing."

Sunderland (4-3-3): Burge; Power, Sanderson, O’Nien, McFadzean; Scowen, Leadbitter, Winchester; Gooch, Wyke, McGeady.