WITH members of the Scotland set-up having watched Ross Stewart in person in the last couple of months, the Sunderland striker has been challenged to maintain his strong start to the season and play his way into Steve Clarke’s squad for the final international break of the year.

Stewart has scored seven goals in ten League One matches this term, but while he was tipped for a maiden Scotland call-up at the start of this month, the 25-year-old was not selected in Clarke’s group for the recent matches against Israel and Faroe Islands, both of which resulted in a Scottish win.

The Scots play their final two matches of the year next month, when their attempt to secure a World Cup play-off place will be decided, and Sunderland assistant Jamie McAllister is confident Stewart will come into Clarke’s thinking if he continues to bang in the goals in the next few weeks.

While Lyndon Dykes has been in reasonably good form on the international stage this autumn, neither Kevin Nisbet nor Ryan Christie have done much to justify their place in the Scotland squad, leaving the route open for Stewart to make his mark.

“I was speaking to Ross just this morning about the Scotland game the other night, and how lucky we were to go and win,” said Glasgow-born McAllister, who won one full international cap during his own playing career. “Ross has been excellent, and he keeps getting better every week.

“He keeps on wanting to improve. He’s a great lad, and we know that Scotland have watched him. He’s definitely in their thoughts, and he’s definitely someone I think can add to the squad. It’s already a strong squad with Scotland at the moment, and if he just keeps doing the business with us, then I’m sure that will come. I’m sure that’s the next step for him.”

While Stewart’s goals tally has been impressive this season, it is the quality of his all-round play that makes him such an integral part of Lee Johnson’s first-choice Sunderland team, and that could also prove extremely valuable at international level.

“He brings so much to the team,” added McAllister, who stood in for Johnson at yesterday’s press conference. “He’s a good size, he can run in behind, he can link it and he’s got a good touch. He scores goals, with his head and his feet. We’re still working on a bit more finesse to his finishing, but he knows that and he wants to keep working on it.

“He’s an all-rounder, and he’s great for the team. He works so hard for the team, on and off the ball, and he’s got a lovely touch for a big guy as well, which enables him to bring other people into play.

“His movement is getting better, and he’s a big number nine when there’s not many of those around in the game at the moment. He’s been excellent for us.”

Stewart will be leading the line at Gillingham tomorrow as Sunderland look to draw a line under the four-goal thrashing at Portsmouth that preceded the international break.

“It’s been a great start, and we’re not concerned about that (the Portsmouth defeat),” said McAllister. “It was just a one-off game, and at the end of the day, they played the conditions better than we did.

“We learn from it, move on, and grow. We’re looking forward to the Gillingham game. We’ve got the international lads back, and a few of the lads who were not away on international duty have had four or five days’ rest. They look really sharp.

"We've seen some young lads come through over the last ten days, and hopefully some will be involved at the weekend as well. It'll be a good mix to pick a squad to win at Gillingham."