SUNDERLAND may well have felt at a loss when 31-goal striker Charlie Wyke neglected to stay at the club following this expiration of his contract in the summer. The memories of last season are long gone as Ross Stewart, AKA the 'Loch Ness Drogba’ has gone on to answer the call of leading the Black Cats front line with accomplished finishing and an outstanding work ethic.

Stewart is currently League One top goalscorer alongside Morecambe’s Cole Stockton on 15 goals for the season. Given that he was signed from Ross County last January as back up and went on to suffer numerous injury problems, he’s come a long way since then. There has even been mooted talk over a possible call-up to Scotland’s senior squad.

Standing at six foot two inches tall, Stewart has no issue in getting around the pitch. He has shown a willingness to hold the ball up and bring others into play whilst also getting beyond defenders and chasing down lost causes. Most strikers of a considerable size normally struggle to do that.

Clearly, Sunderland have a prized gem on their hands and he still has his best years ahead of him at the age of 25. Stewart ticked off a career first just before the New Year scoring the perfect hat-trick in a 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. A goal with his right foot, left foot and with his head.

“I think it was a proud moment for all of us to be fair” said Lee Johnson.

“It’s nice that his family was watching the game as well, just a nice human moment really.”

There were plenty of questions as to whether Johnson was prepared to strengthen in the attacking department over the summer given Wyke’s departure to rivals Wigan Athletic. But it seemed clear from the outset that he was ready to put his faith in Stewart to provide the goals and lead an attacking front that would fire them up to promotion.

As things stand, that faith has been rewarded with the Black Cats sitting in second place and just a point behind leaders Rotherham United.

While Stewart has shown that he is an accomplished striker in the third tier, Johnson is not one for allowing players to rest on their laurels.

“He’s worked really hard but we’re in constant dialogue again and work on the training ground” added Johnson.

“Phil Jevons has put a lot of work into him as well on how to improve and add to various parts of his game but what he brings us is that energy, that work rate, that pressing from the front, that agility, the movement.

“The boy has looked really cohesive at the moment which means any dynamic movement is tended to be picked out. Sometimes strikers make a lot of runs and the ball doesn’t come. Rosco believes in his team mates as well and therefore he is continuing to make the runs because he knows that more often than not, they are going to try and look for him and put him in.”

At the moment, there isn't much to suggest that Stewart is the subject of interest from elsewhere but it wouldn't be a surprise to see clubs being linked with him, especially over the summer. The pressure of being one of few Sunderland strikers in the squad is yet to faze the Scottish frontman who will no doubt be a part of Johnson’s side coming up against Wycombe Wanderers this weekend.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side currently sit fourth in the table and four points behind the Mackems going into the game at Adams Park.