SUNDERLAND’S promotion fate is likely to be the determining factor in whether Ross Stewart remains with the club beyond the end of the season, with Norwich City, Swansea City and Rangers all known to be interested in the striker.

However, Alex Neil is adamant Stewart’s future is not at the forefront of his thoughts as he attempts to guide the Black Cats into the play-offs in the final five games of the season.

Stewart’s rise to prominence has been one of the major success stories of Sunderland’s campaign, with the 25-year-old currently the joint-leading scorer in League One.

His 22 goals earned him a maiden call-up to the senior Scotland squad last month, and have led to mounting speculation about his future plans.

He is due to enter the final year of his current contract this summer, but with Sunderland’s season still hanging in the balance, Neil has opted to shelve all contractual discussions until the end of the campaign.

Stewart is clearly enjoying his time at the Stadium of Light, and has shown no indication that he will be interested in a potential move away from Wearside.

Nevertheless, the fact that clubs in England’s top two divisions and the Scottish top-flight have been strongly linked with his services will not have gone unnoticed by the striker and his representatives, and Sunderland officials will no doubt be braced for a series of more formal approaches once the transfer window is re-open.

Those approaches will be easier to rebuff if Sunderland are playing in the Championship next season rather than spending another year in League One, but Neil insists he cannot become distracted by individual players’ positions as he looks to guide his side into the play-offs. The Black Cats currently sit in sixth position, ahead of seventh-placed Wycombe Wanderers on goal difference, ahead of tomorrow’s home game with Shrewsbury Town.

“I’ve got bigger things to concern myself about than trying to keep a player happy who’s got his own objectives in his career,” said Neil. “The simple fact is, I’ve got the Sunderland fans, the Sunderland community and the Sunderland club as a whole to concern myself with.

“Ross has done really well for us, but the simple fact is that if we can continue to make progress and get ourselves out of this league, then naturally players will want to be here and play here. It really is as simple as that.

“The simple fact is that he’s our contracted player. He’s done well, but he’s done well because he’s been given a chance at this club. I’m sure he’ll be respectful of that as well.

“But I’m not going into the remaining games worrying that if I don’t win them, or we don’t win them, then Ross might see his future elsewhere. I don’t think about that with any of the players, it doesn’t even cross my mind at the moment.”

Stewart is not the only Sunderland player whose future beyond the end of the season is currently the subject of intense debate.

Patrick Roberts signed a short-term deal to the summer when he joined from Manchester City in January, and while the Black Cats negotiated an option that will allow them to automatically extend the deal by another 12 months, they are yet to decide whether to trigger the clause.

Roberts has become an increasingly influential performer in the last few weeks, having forced his way into Neil’s preferred starting side, although he was replaced at half-time during last weekend’s 2-1 win at Oxford.

He is the subject of growing interest from Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise, who are a growing force in the European game. Union Saint-Gilloise currently top the Belgian top-flight, ahead of the likes of Club Brugge, Anderlecht and Royal Antwerp, and are set to strengthen significantly this summer if they find themselves having qualified for the Champions League.

Roberts is one of a number of British-based players they are understood to be monitoring, although Sunderland will continue to have first refusal over the winger.

The Black Cats will also have to make a decision over Thorben Hoffmann and Leon Dajaku, both of whom joined on a season-long loan when they moved to Wearside from their native Germany last summer.