Marcus Stewart thinks former clubs Sunderland and Ipswich can push for promotion

Former Sunderland and Ipswich striker Marcus Stewart feels both his old clubs can put themselves in the Sky Bet Championship promotion picture this season.

The Mackems reached the play-offs last season, losing out to Luton, while Ipswich came up from Sky Bet League One.

Sunderland host Ipswich at the Stadium of Light for their Championship opener on Sunday, with the televised fixture set to support the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.

A programme of activity is scheduled to raise awareness for motor neurone disease and help generate donations, including a pre-match talk-in with Stewart, whose own diagnosis came after 12 months of testing and was revealed in September last year.

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray was Stewart’s captain when at Ipswich, while another former Town team-mate Mark Venus is assistant head coach.

Stewart played for Sunderland between 2002 and 2005, helping Mick McCarthy’s side win promotion to the Premier League in his final season.

Marcus Stewart and Mick McCarthy celebrate Sunderland's promotion

Marcus Stewart, left, helped Sunderland get promoted to the Premier League in 2005 (Nick Potts/PA)

It is a target which Stewart feels Mowbray’s men can also now have in their sights once again.

“Sunderland pushed on last year and got into the play-offs, probably unexpectedly with a young squad,” Stewart told the PA news agency.

“They have added a bit of experience with summer signings like Bradley Dack, so I expect them to be up there again.

“It is probably a different kind of pressure they have now, because that expectancy level has gone up a bit.

Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray

Tony Mowbray guided his young Sunderland side into the play-offs last season (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The fans there are passionate, ruthless and brilliant all in one. If you are not pulling your weight, they will let you know about it – but on the flip side, if you are doing brilliant, then they are the best fans in the world.

“You have got to be able to handle the pressure up there, the good and bad times which every player gets during the season.

“But Tony is a calm man and will take everything as it comes. He will not get too excited and not get too down when results are going well or bad for them, which will happen during the season.

“It is just how to get through those spells (of bad results), which will happen, and then promotion is on the cards.”

Ipswich have also supported Stewart’s fundraising efforts, making donations from a new kit launch in July, which was the inspired by Suffolk club’s shirt in the 1999-2000 promotion campaign.

After winning the Championship play-off final at Wembley, Stewart’s 19 Premier League goals helped George Burley’s team finish fifth and secure qualification for the UEFA Cup.

Former Town frontman Stewart, 50, feels the Tractor Boys can use momentum from a fine League One campaign under Kieran McKenna to make an impact on their long-awaited return to the second tier.

“Ipswich are riding a crest of a wave at the moment, there is a feel-good factor about the place,” said Stewart.

“How they are doing things there from the top can only benefit the club and they have a good young manager who got promotion in his first full season.

“Like most clubs, you want to get off to that good start. It is all about being in touch and then the recruitment come January will be really important.”

Marcus Stewart celebrates scoring for Yeovil

Marcus Stewart made more than 650 appearances through the divisions (PA)

MND is a degenerative condition which affects the brain and nervous system. It is a life-shortening disease and there is no cure.

Although it will progress, symptoms can be managed to achieve the best possible quality of life.

Currently head of player development at National League South club Yeovil, another of his former clubs, Stewart, supported by his wife Louise, hopes to continue to front charity campaigns while he is able.

In May, Bristol Rovers hosted a charity match between a South West Legends side and an All-Star XI, with the weekend’s events raising a grand total of just over £110,000.

Stewart’s family and friends will also be undertaking the #TEAMSTEWART254 Cycle Challenge in October, which will see fundraisers travel over 900km to seven of his former clubs.

Stewart has lost grip in his left hand since being diagnosed and has a weak arm, but continues to hold a positive outlook.

“I am not a person who likes to be in the limelight to be honest, but I have embraced it,” said Stewart, who also had spells at both Bristol clubs as well as Huddersfield and Exeter, playing in every tier of the English professional game.

“With the start of a new season it is the start of a new campaign to raise awareness and a new opportunity for clubs to step up, like Sunderland and Ipswich have.”

:: The Stewart family are raising funds for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation at justgiving.com/team/teamstewart254.

Donations can also be made by texting DRMND followed by the amount to 70085.

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