Ross Stewart lifts the lid on his remarkable week at Sunderland
One game, one goal and one medal – it’s fair to say Ross Stewart will have enjoyed worse weeks in his footballing career.
The striker, who arrived at Sunderland in January, made his debut for the club in the win at Accrington Stanley after an agonising wait.
He produced an instant impact too, as he headed home from Lynden Gooch’s cross to open the scoring in the 2-0 win – which kept Sunderland within touching distance of the automatic promotion places.
It was a cathartic moment for the former Ross County man, who had endured some frustrating injury setbacks since joining the club for a six-figure sum in the winter window.
And it topped off a fine week for the striker, who also picked up a medal at Wembley on Sunday having been an unused substitute in the final.
“It's going to be a tough week to top!,” he joked after the win at the Wham Stadium.
"But hopefully over the course of the season I can top it by helping this team to get promoted. I want to play my part in helping us get promoted. I've done a bit already and hopefully I can do more in the coming weeks.”
The early signs from Stewart have certainly been positive, with his work-rate and physicality making a real difference in what was otherwise a fairly cagey encounter on Wednesday evening.
But it was his goal that stole the show, as the striker rose high to loop home a header from Lynden Gooch’s cross just minutes after entering the fray.
So where does it rank among Stewart’s best debuts?
"It's top of my list and one I thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.
"It's been a frustrating time for me so to get back playing and to come on and have an impact to get the goal - and more importantly the three points - I'm really happy.
“The gaffer said he knew what I was capable of, so to go on, be confident and believe in myself. Thankfully, the way the game went, I was able to have an impact so I'm really happy.
“Balls into the box is what I thrive off. When you've got the quality of Goochy, Geads and others you know you're going to get chances.
"It's a great ball from Goochy for the goal and I've just tried to help it back, and thankfully it's looped in.
“As a striker, the quicker you can get that first goal to help you settle the better,” he continued.
"Hopefully now I can use that and kick on for the rest of the season because we've got a lot of tough games and we're going to need everybody. Hopefully I can be a big part of that.”
Stewart’s debut has been weeks in the making. The striker arrived in the North East with a minor hamstring injury but a series of setbacks curtailed his return to action.
It was far from an ideal start to life at a new club, and was a period that proved tricky for the forward.
“It's the most frustrated I've been in my career, if I'm being honest,” he admitted.
"To be close and have the wee setback, then to be close again and have another wee setback, it's been tough mentally.
"When you come to a new club you want to get in and get playing and show everybody what you can do. It's been a bit later than usual but hopefully I was able to show that a bit tonight.
“My fitness isn't going to be what it should having been out two or three months but hopefully come games that can top up and I can start to really show what I can do.”
But those injury woes haven’t affected Stewart’s enjoyment of his time at the Academy of Light thus far.
“I've loved every minute,” he added.
"Coming to such a big club like Sunderland with the fanbase and the facilities, the only thing that's not been there is the game time. With that coming now I'm really happy.
"The lads, the management, the coaching staff, have been excellent with me and helped me settle.”
Now the focus for the striker turns to securing a run in the side.
With fellow forwards Aiden O’Brien and Jordan Jones set for spells on the sidelines, the 24-year-old could be set to see further opportunities come his way in the coming weeks.
But in Charlie Wyke, Sunderland have the division’s in-form striker. He netted his 27th goal in all competitions on Wednesday evening and is unlikely to be dropped from the side in the near future.
So could Stewart see the two of them forming an effective partnership moving forward?
“I hope so.
“You could probably see that when we went two up top [at Accrington] because I thought we were a threat all night with our link-up. We get on really well, we communicate on the pitch and I think there could be a really good partnership there.
“When I got brought here I knew it was going to be tough because big Chaz has been banging in the goals,” he continued,
"You've got to give him credit, but I'm here to play my part. If it's going to be coming up and impacting games like this then I'm ready for it. Whenever I'm on that pitch I'll be ready to give 100 per cent, and that's all I can do.”