ROSS STEWART is relishing the prospect of playing a leading role in Sunderland’s promotion campaign after excelling as a stand-in striker.

The 24-year-old Scot spoke out after helping guarantee the Black Cats' League One play-off berth in the worrying absence of 30-goal leading scorer Charlie Wyke.

Stewart grabbed only his second goal in Sunderland colours since moving from Ross County in January to put his team on course for a welcome 3-1 victory over Plymouth, sealed with Chris Maguire and Denver Hume’s late goals.

Stewart’s first-half strike was the highlight of an impressive overall display as he made up for lost time while he’s been kicking his heels on the sidelines in Wyke’s shadow.

And it was a personal performance that would have eased manager Lee Johnson’s concerns over Wyke’s thigh muscle injury, which meant he remained on Wearside for treatment.

Wyke is set for scans this week to determine the seriousness of the injury but if worst does come to worst, Stewart could be ready to fill the void as crunch-time looms.

“It’s part of my job to stay ready just in case Chaz picks up an injury,” Stewart told reporters at Home Park. “When the unexpected does unfortunately happen you’ve just got to be ready and when I was told he wasn’t travelling I just had to get my mindset right.

“Chaz’s form has been unbelievable and you know as a striker when he’s scoring so frequently it’ll be tough to get in the side.

“I’ve just got to give the manager one of those so-called selection headaches looking ahead toward the next few games and hopefully I’ve done that.

“Whatever happens from now, whether it’s that Chaz comes back in for me, whether it’s me and Chaz or what-not, I’ll stay ready and give it my best if called upon.”

Stewart made sure Sunderland’s first-half dominance paid as he cleverly broke the offside trap on 21 minutes, striding clear from just inside the Plymouth half before applying a cool, low finish.

He led the attacking line intelligently and the Sunderland pressing game with plenty of enthusiasm, winning more than his fair share of aerial battles as well as harrying Plymouth’s defenders throughout.

He would also head against the woodwork late on as Sunderland eventually eased to victory but when Joe Edwards nodded in an equaliser on 63 minutes there was a sense that a seven-match winless streak could be extended.

But Stewart clearly had other ideas and was at the centre of the incident that changed the course of the game minute later when he was felled just outside the penalty area by Jerome Opoku who was sent off for a second yellow card.

Maguire was immediately sent on to bolster Sunderland’s attack in place of Jack Diamond and forced a fine save out of Michael Cooper before Edwards cleared off the line.

Chances came and went for Sunderland but ultimately, though, there was to be no stopping the visitors and Maguire restored their lead on 84 minutes from the penalty spot after Lynden Gooch was fouled by Ryan Law.

Hume made the growing superiority count two minutes into stoppage time, slotting home from 12 yards after substitute goalkeeper Luke McCormick repelled Gooch’s powerful drive and the tension dissipated.

With the talismanic Aiden McGeady still absent with a foot problem, it was just the lift Sunderland needed ahead of their final match of the regular season at home to Northampton.

“We’ve returned to winning ways at just the right time and we've got to keep up the momentum going by beating Northampton,” Stewart said

“On a personal level, I’m enjoying the pressure that comes with a promotion campaign and playing at a club of Sunderland’s size.

“I’ve loved ever minute of our promotion challenge because these are the situations you want to be in.

“I’ve moved from a club where it was more about trying to stay in the league and so the mindset is very different.

“The play-offs will be new to me but these are the games you look forward to because there’s so much at stake.

“There’ll be lots of interest but I’m sure that added pressure will galvanise us so we can get this club up a division.”

Black Cats owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus was an animated supporter in the Mayflower Stand and then had a long post-match chat with Johnson.

“The owner is happy but he understands and we understand the big picture,” said Johnson. “I’m buzzing. I’m disappointed we haven't got automatic promotion but we’ve got a second bite at the cherry in a competition we can be really prepared for.

“For now it doesn't matter who we play, I’m not going to be tactical to try and finish in a position based on facing a particular club. Over two legs, if we’re at it, we can be successful against anyone. I just hope fans will be there even if there’s just a proportion in the ground. We’ve just been to Wembley, we want to go back and win there again.”