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James Hunter

Sunderland new boy Joe Gelhardt is relishing the challenge of filling Ross Stewart's shoes

Joe Gelhardt is relishing the challenge of stepping into Ross Stewart's shoes for the rest of the season after making his Sunderland debut at Millwall. The striker signed on loan from Leeds United the week before last to share the goalscoring burden with the Scotland international but those plans were torn up within 48 hours when the Scotland international suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the FA Cup fourth round tie at Fulham.

That has left Gelhardt as Sunderland's sole out-and-out centre-forward, and he will now step into the spotlight. The 20-year-old started the Black Cats' 1-1 draw against Millwall at The Den and, while he could not mark the occasion with a goal, he showed enough promise to suggest that he will get goals in the 17 Championship games that remain.

Of taking on Stewart's mantle, Gelhardt said: "I'm looking forward to the challenge, and there's pressure because Ross scored so many goals. It's unfortunate that he has got injured but I'm in the team now and I like the pressure."

READ MORE: Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray on Dennis Cirkin's bravery and how it will cost him an FA Cup outing

He comes into a side that already contains the attacking talents of Amad, Patrick Roberts, and Jack Clarke, and Gelhardt is confident that he will fit in. "I've seen them all in training and I know how good they are, so to play with them - especially Amad, and Jack and Pat and the way they link up together - it's great to be part of it and I'm looking forward to the next game and hopefully we'll get three points in that," he said.

Sunderland fell behind to Jake Cooper's goal on the hour, but sub Dennis Cirkin's brave header levelled things up ten minutes from time - although it came at a cost with the defender suffering concussion after he was caught in the face by the goalkeeper, and he had to leave the field. The Black Cats were not at their best but they still managed to extend their run to just one defeat in nine games in all competitions, and they stay ninth in the table.

And on another day, Gelhardt believes they could have gone on to win it. He said: "It's a tough place to come, I think everyone knows that.

"We came here and we knew what to expect - long balls, second balls, and it would be a scrappy game. But I thought we fought well and in the end we were unlucky not to get three points, especially in the second half when I thought we were on the front foot and on another day I think we might have got another goal late on.

"Other than that, I thought we played quite well and we'll take a point. Every point is important. We know how close this league is, and as long as we don't lose and it's a performance to build on, we can look forward to the next game and hopefully getting three points in that one."

Sunderland were backed by 2,800 fans who made the journey from the North-East, and Gelhardt added: "From Sunderland down to London, it's incredible how many people came.

"Me and all the team, we can't thank them enough for coming and showing their support. On another day, we get three points and they go home happy but I'm sure they saw we gave it our all."

Gelhardt is cup-tied for Sunderland's midweek FA Cup fourth round replay against Millwall on Wearside, meaning he is set to make his home debut in next weekend's Championship game against Reading. Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray admitted that Millwall's style made it difficult for his team to play their usual brand of attacking football, and that made it difficult to assess Gelhardt's contribution.

He said: "It was difficult. The way the game went, we didn't have the control that we normally have. It was stop-start, there were lots of fouls, there was no real fluency and we couldn't really get our game going, so it was a bit unfair to judge anybody."


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