Former Black Cat on striker boost.
The transfer window closed earlier this week with Sunderland’s senior squad showing 13 new additions – but the return of Steven Fletcher effectively makes it 14, according to former Black Cat Martin Smith.
Fletcher, who bagged 11 goals last season, returned as a half-time substitute during the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace last weekend having been out since March with an ankle injury.
The Scot wasted no time in making his mark, guiding home a superb header from a Jack Colback cross just 19 minutes into his comeback.
Smith says Fletcher’s importance can’t be underestimated and says his return is a big boost for head coach Paolo Di Canio.
“He’s like a new signing, definitely,” said Smith, a boyhood Sunderland fan who scored 28 goals in 135 games for the club between 1992 and 1999.
“You know what you’re going to get from Fletcher; he showed that last season. When he’s fit and playing, he will score goals.
“Thankfully it’s not taken him long to get off the mark. He had one chance and scored and that’s the mark of a good striker, especially when he’s been out for so long.”
The Barclays Premier League takes a break this weekend with international fixtures on the agenda – and Smith says Fletcher will be keen to use the extra time to top up his fitness levels.
“There’s a bit of time before the next game and hopefully he’ll be feeling even better,” Fletcher said.
“Especially when you’re missed pre-season, it can take five or six games to get back [to full fitness].
“It was a fantastic finish [for his goal against Palace] – the keeper had no chance and you could see exactly what that goal meant to him afterwards.”
And Smith says Fletcher’s return is not just a boost for Sunderland, but also an equally big shot in the arm - if not more so - for the player himself.
Having been out of the first-team picture since March, the Scot has worked hard on his rehabilitation and his passionate goal celebration showed just how much the strike meant to him.
“As someone who had a lot of injuries myself, you spend all the hours in the gym wondering what’s going on, but as soon as you’re back and scoring everything is worthwhile,” Smith said.
“It will be a big boost for him after all the hard work.
“Steven has an extra week or so and he will be looking forward to getting back out there again; the games are coming thick and fast.”