For once, there is a beacon of light shining down upon Sunderland. They are trophy winners again and they are edging ever closer to that elusive promotion.
They have faced plenty of tests over the last few weeks, but none bigger than the one they’ll encounter on Saturday afternoon.
With seven wins from their last eight league games, the Mackems have generated some fantastic momentum.
That being said, they cannot seem to escape their injury nightmare. Bailey Wright and Jordan Willis are still out while they could be without both Aiden O’Brien and Jordan Jones when they play fellow promotion hopefuls Lincoln on Saturday.
Johnson specified this week than O’Brien would be one of the first to return but he didn’t give a time frame on his potential comeback. The forward has been out since limping off on the hour mark against Portsmouth ten days ago.
The manager chose to go with Jack Diamond ahead of the injured O’Brien and Jones against Accrington in midweek.
However, he was lumped off at half time after making just three passes of the ball. With that in mind, it would be rather surprising if Johnson selected him from the off again.
That means the 39-year-old should consider handing a first start in a Sunderland shirt to Ross Stewart.
The Scotsman was signed in the winter transfer window but arrived with an injury and thus, didn’t earn his debut until the win over Accrington.
He appeared on the bench in the EFL Trophy win at Wembley and then popped up with a debut goal on Wednesday. It capped off a wonderful week for a player who is continuing to impressing Johnson with his attitude.
The Black Cats didn’t spend much in January but Stewart did arrive for a fee. It was a gamble but it’s immediately paying dividends. Both player and manager have had to wait patiently but, as his soaring header a few days ago tells us, he’s more of a threat to the goal than Diamond.
As such, this could be the time to unleash him for good. Like Wyke, he is a tall striker, and if you combine the pair they could wreak havoc on the Imps.
It’s not just his football that’s so impressive, however; it’s his relentless mentality. Stewart’s former manager Stuart Kettlewell once said: “He’s an intelligent guy, which is rare in football and he takes on messages well because he has a burning desire to reach the next level.”
Indeed, by helping the Black Cats to promotion, he could well reach that next level. Johnson has to give him the keys to Sunderland’s attack.