Sunderland may have to go back into the transfer market for another striker after Ross Stewart was stretchered off against Fulham with an Achilles injury that could potentially rule him out for 'a long, long, time', according to Tony Mowbray. The Scotland international left Craven Cottage wearing a protective boot after suffering the injury inside the opening 20 minutes.
He pulled up as he chased a ball alongside Fulham defender Issa Diop as the sides fought out a 1-1 draw in their FA Cup fourth round tie. Sunderland brought in Leeds United striker Joe Gelhardt last week as competition and cover for Stewart, who had been the club's only senior out-and-out striker following Everton's decision to recall Ellis Simms from his loan spell at the beginning of the month.
But they are now back to square one, albeit with Gelhardt now their only available centre-forward. Losing ten-goal top scorer Stewart for an extended spell would be a massive blow to the Black Cats' chances of securing a play-off spot, and it means they are likely to try bring in another frontman before the transfer window closes on Tuesday evening.
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"He's got a big protective boot on," Mowbray said of Stewart. "It's an Achilles injury.
"I've just been speaking to the doctors there - he's not hopping about and screaming, but potentially it could be a complete tear and it could be a long, long, time. But let's wait and see. I shouldn't really jump to conclusions - I'm not a doctor - he's got an Achilles injury, it popped and he could hardly run and we're a bit concerned about him, to be honest.
"In the same week that we have lost our skipper Corry Evans [to a cruciate ligament injury], it is a big blow."
Stewart has already missed three months of the season with a thigh injury he suffered almost as soon as Mowbray took charge. Mowbray said: "He scored two goals when I first arrived and then he got injured and didn't play for three months, and we found it difficult to score goals.
"Then he came back and seemed to score every time he went out on the pitch, yet here he is picking up an injury. The positive for us is that we have signed young Joe Gelhardt from Leeds this week on loan.
"I have just been talking to our head of recruitment outside the room there about whether we need to keep in the market ... we'll have to wait and see. I'm the head coach at this club, I don't really know the finances.
"I do know that the young team needs some support.
"Hopefully there is some business to be done in the next few days, but I would say as well it's fantastic that young Gelhardt has come in and Pierre Ekwah got on the pitch today and did a good job and looks a real talent.
"We probably just need some bodies, because we had a 15-year-old [substitute Chris Rigg] on the pitch today and the other three lads who didn't get on the pitch were all 16 or 17. We are really short on numbers and with 18 league games to go we probably need a bit of help."
Stewart's injury took the gloss off an absorbing game which saw Sunderland earn a replay against the Londoners. Jack Clarke had put the Black Cats in front after only five minutes, but Tom Cairney levelled for the hosts on the hour.
Sunderland were at full strength and, while Fulham made seven changes and rested some of their star men such as ex-Newcastle man Aleksandar Mitrovic and Willian, they still named a strong team. Mowbray said: "The overriding positive was how young our team was today. Once Ross went off there were only one or two players over the age of 22, and they were playing against a Fulham side who beat Chelsea here a few weeks ago and they are riding high in the Premier League.
"I know Mitrovic and Willian didn't play most of the game but I still think it was a good performance from a very young team who played with a positive attitude and threatened their goal, particularly in the first half, and could have added to our score. I thought defensively Danny Ballard and Danny Batth were very good, and we can't not mention the goalie - when you play against top teams you have to make saves and he did today.
"If anything, there was a bit of frustration that we didn't see that game out because we felt we could have won that game. We respect the fact that Fulham are a top team with top players, they play positional football and if you get it wrong they are in behind you and they are hurting you."
Bailey Wright was missing from the teamsheet, and with the Australia international defender having been linked with a move away from Wearside before the end of the month that led to fresh speculation about his future but Mowbray insisted the 30-year-old was merely injured. He said: "Bailey has a calf strain. He didn't come because he pulled up in training yesterday."
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