Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray says he hopes striker Ross Stewart will remain at the club, despite significant interest from Championship rivals Southampton.
The Black Cats have been trying desperately to secure another attacker in the final stages of the transfer window as they look to recover from their stuttering start to the new campaign. The Wearside club have just four points from their opening four games, with their goal-shy attack having struggled thus far.
Mowbray has had to contend with the loss of Stewart, who has been sidelined with an Achilles heel injury since January. He is due to return following the international break next month and the former Celtic boss has consistently pointed to his return as a potential turning point in Sunderland’s season.
The 27-year-old is out of contract at the Stadium of Light at the end of the season and has so far rejected any advances of an extension. This has brought Southampton to the table, with manager Russell Martin all-but-confirming their interest yesterday;
“I really like Ross, I tried to sign him at MK Dons.
“I really liked him then and he’s gone on to do brilliantly at Sunderland.
“He’s been out for a while. We’re going to be linked with so many players. Some of those are so far away that we haven’t even discussed, and some of them are really close to the mark and some of them we’ll probably end up bringing in.
“Ross is one of a number that we’ve been linked with, and again, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Addressing the speculation earlier today, via Sunderland Echo, Mowbray said;
“What I would suggest is that he can’t be getting sold unless the knight in shining armour comes riding through the door.
“I’d think and hope that would be the case. I’d think that we’d have a striker for the future if Ross did [leave], it’s been a long time that we’ve been trying to get Ross to sign a new contract.
“Truthfully, I don’t know what will happen with Ross. The scenario hasn’t changed for me, he’s either going to be here after Friday and hopefully fit in a few weeks ready to score some goals, or we take a huge bid for him and we spend all the money on strikers who are going to make the difference for us.
“That’s football, the next one has to come in and score the goals and be the new hero.”
This story could be one that dominates Deadline Day. With Sunderland desperately short of attacking options, they only way this deal gets sanctioned is if they have a replacement immediately lined up. No doubt they will be working furiously to prepare for this scenario, but Stewart remaining at the club would obviously be the preference.
He is a player that has been consistently good during his time on the pitch, although the amount of time he has been absent will have to be factored in. Any potential arrival would need time to adjust and isn’t guaranteed to hit the ground running. That said, this represents Sunderland’s final chance to receive a decent fee for the player. However, strengthening a direct league rival isn’t ideal. This looks to be precariously poised.
UPDATE: Sky Sports are now reporting that Sunderland have accepted an £8 million plus £2 million bid from Southampton, with the striker heading to St Mary’s for a medical.