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Fletcher on song for Sunderland
STEVEN FLETCHER'S move to Sunderland took so long to conclude it must have felt like he had walked 500 miles and then he had to fly more than that just to make his Premier League debut in a red and
But it all seems worthwhile for the 12m man this morning after his double at the Liberty Stadium followed on from a sing-off he claims to have won in the team hotel on the eve of his appearance in
After belting out a classic from The Proclaimers on Friday night which got the Sunderland squad rocking, less than 24 hours later Fletcher showed exactly why Martin O'Neill spent big on him by scoring the goals to earn a point at Swansea City. His first was a cool finish with his left foot and the second was a potent tap-in from inches out. Neither were from the head of a player many fans on Wearside would have down as little more than a target-man.
And the former Wolves and Burnley front-man said: "I'm happy to score goals with my feet. I was being regarded as a striker who could score goals with his head and not much else, so it is nice to get going like I have."
With Fletcher leading the line and a supportive attacking three of the quality of Adam Johnson , Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean, there is suddenly a nice balance to the way Sunderland play. There is clearly still plenty of room for improvement on the evidence of this showing, but undoubtedly there is a freshness and unpredictability about Sunderland now that hasn't been there since long before O'Neill took over ten months ago.
"The gaffer speaks sense," said Fletcher, little more than a week after completing his switch from Wolves. "We all are playing to his style. Hopefully the gaffer will bring more of what you have seen to our play. The more we play the better we are likely to get together. You look at James, Sessegnon and Adam behind me, you can't ask for much more than that as a striker." There has never been too much wrong with the way Sunderland defend under O'Neill. Even last season there was significant improvements made to protect Simon Mignolet's goal. Already, though, there are more positive things happening at the opposite end of the pitch.
A fortnight after a solid defensive display earned a point at Arsenal, a determined display at the back laid the foundations for Fletcher and Co to counter-attack at the Liberty. That was exactly what they did for the first goal. When Mignolet's punt upfield was missed on half way, Ashley Williams made a mess of a routine back pass under attention from Fletcher. The Sunderland striker reacted first, took control and then darted towards goal before side-footing perfectly off his left boot inside Michel Vorm's far post four minutes before half-time. But the lead didn't last long. A typically well-worked Swansea goal levelled. Wayne Routledge, livelier than he ever was for Newcastle, charged in to the box to meet a delightful chip from Nathan Dyer with a powerful finish just seconds after the fourth official signalled six minutes of stoppage time - mainly due to the fall from Neil Taylor which left him with a broken ankle. That meant there was still time for Sunderland to regain the advantage.
In the seventh minute of injury-time, Fletcher arrived at the back post ahead of Chico Flores to side-foot Seb Larsson's free-kick over the line after Angel Rangel had stopped a McClean attack with his arm. Two goals from Fletcher - and he's 'nowhere near match fit' according to his manager. "With the break coming up I can now get in to the training ground and build up my fitness work," said the Scottish striker. "Some of the lads have international games coming up so they will keep going and get fitter, I need to use this week wisely. "Every day, every week is helping me. I felt OK after 70 minutes before I was taken off but I'm sure I will feel even better in the next game. It's always nice to score goals and it is nice to get goals early to help me settle. I feel good."
Swansea will count themselves unfortunate not to claim all three points, particularly having enjoyed comfortably more possession than their opponents.
But when Sunderland did have the ball they did well to keep it more often than not, highlighted by an 80 per cent successful pass completion rate, 13 per cent less than Swansea. Swansea did dominate the second half and looked on course to win the game when 2m man Michu rose in the Sunderland box to nod down Jonathan de Guzman's cross beyond Mignolet to equalise with 25 minutes remaining. But then Chico Flores, who should have been at least cautioned for a crazy two-footed tackle on McClean earlier in the half, decided to aim for Louis Saha's head with his studs six minutes later.
That earned the Spanish defender a red card on an afternoon to forget for him and that made things slightly easier for Sunderland, although Swansea still kept the ball better than the Black Cats. But a point and two goals was a promising start for Fletcher, who was also keen to include his rendition of 500 Miles among his success stories in South Wales. Fletcher said: "We all had a bit of a sing-a-long and mine was up there with the best of them to be fair, even if there weren't any roses or anything coming my way.
"I did Proclaimers because (Louis) Saha stole my song. I couldn't sing Stand By Me, so I did something to get the lads dancing!" Now he could be asked to take the microphone again before Liverpool's trip to Wearside on September 15 - and why not.
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