RANGERS have lined up Sunderland striker Ross Stewart as their preferred replacement for Alfredo Morelos if the Colombian striker rejects the offer of a new deal at Ibrox.

Morelos has entered the final year of his current contract in Glasgow, and Rangers officials are adamant they will not run the risk of losing him for nothing in 12 months’ time.

With contract talks having stalled since the end of last season, the Gers are formulating plans that will be put into place if they are forced to invite offers for Morelos, who was the club’s leading scorer with 11 league goals last season.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has assessed a number of different options, with Stewart now understood to be regarded as the number one choice if a new striker is needed this summer.

Sunderland’s leading scorer from their promotion-winning campaign has also entered the final year of his current deal, and while Black Cats sporting director Kristjaan Speakman has indicated a willingness to discuss a new contract, talks are yet to take place.

Stewart’s stock has risen dramatically in the last 12 months, with his involvement in Scotland’s ongoing Nations League campaign underlining the extent to which his profile has soared as a result of his 26 League One goals last season. Having won his second cap as a substitute in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland, Stewart will hope to be handed a first international start when Scotland round off their current set of fixtures with a trip to Armenia tomorrow.

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The 25-year-old was a relative unknown when he signed from Ross County at the start of 2021, with his wage earnings reflecting the fact that Sunderland prised him from the lower reaches of the Scottish top-flight.

He will be offered a significant pay increase when the Black Cats table a new offer, but Rangers will be confident of being able to trump whatever Stewart is offered on Wearside if they make their own move this summer.

Morelos is understood to be earning £33,000-a-week at Ibrox, a figure that is far in excess of what Sunderland have been paying as a third-tier club.

Stewart is understood to be extremely happy on Wearside, and clearly relished the opportunity to spearhead Sunderland’s promotion push last season.

However, a move to Ibrox would have the potential to enhance his international prospects, and would also give him the opportunity to play European football next season.

Alex Rae is now a prominent commentator on Scottish football, and writing in his Daily Record column, the former Sunderland midfielder claimed Stewart would be an ideal fit for Rangers.

“I’ve liked big Stewart since his Ross County days,” wrote Rae. “I think he’s got good attributes and we’ve seen him score a variety of goals over the past year in League One.

“He’s been introduced to life at a big club with his Sunderland move. There’s no denying that in terms of the numbers of fans and the expectation to win, especially with them being in League One after four years, there are similarities to Rangers.

“What he’s pitched in to the cause in terms of a really impressive season at that level shows he’s ready, and I’m sure he’ll be looking to kick on again in the Championship – or maybe somewhere else.”