Sunderland return to Championship action on Saturday as they take on Millwall at the Stadium of Light and Tony Mowbray should unleash Ross Stewart.
It will feel like a lifetime for a lot of Mackems since the Black Cats’ 2-1 win over Birmingham City on November 11, their last competitive fixture in the second tier.
Fortunately for Sunderland, the break has allowed some players to return to fitness, with Stewart and Dominic Ballard both back on the training pitch after significant spells on the sidelines, although the latter is unlikely to be fit for this weekend’s fixture.
It is a tough re-introduction to life in the Championship for Mowbray’s side, as they face a Millwall side who currently sit sixth in the second tier after some excellent form ahead of the World Cup break.
The Lions have long been renowned as a tough, physical side and that certainly hasn’t changed this season, as they currently lead the way for aerials won per game in the Championship, averaging a remarkable 26 per game.
Sunderland, meanwhile, sit 20th when measured by the same statistic, with just 15.6 aerials won per game, which suggests that they could be in for a tough battle on Saturday.
While Mowbray has admitted that it could be a gamble to introduce the Scotland international from the start on Saturday, his aerial ability makes him a game-changer for the Black Cats.
No player in Sunderland’s squad has averaged more aerials won per game (4.1) than the former Ross County man so far this campaign, while he is also their top scorer and top performer according to WhoScored, despite only featuring in seven league fixtures.
This emphasises how important the “incredible” striker is to the way that Mowbray wants to set his side up, and if he wants to cause problems for Millwall’s defence on Saturday, then he must select the talismanic forward from the start.
If reports are to be believed, then Stewart could be heading back to Scotland during the January transfer window, so Mowbray has to take the risk with him now, as he might not have him available in the squad for too much longer.