Sunderland hitman Fletcher shakes off ankle injury ahead of Saints relegation battle
21:00 GMT, 20 December 2012
Sunderland top scorer Steven Fletcher has handed Martin O’Neill a welcome boost and will be fit to face Southampton after a full week of training.
The Scotland international has been struggling with an ankle injury and he was forced off in last week’s defeat at Manchester United.
His return to full fitness is vital for Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill ahead of Saturday’s visit to Southampton and stand-in skipper John O’Shea has now urged his team-mates to match Fletcher’s outstanding standards this season.
Goal machine: Steven Fletcher is fit for Sunderland as they travel down south
Fletcher has scored seven goals since his 12million switch from Wolves, and has been one of the Wearside club’s most consistent performers along with Danny Rose and Simon Mignolet.
Republic of Ireland international O’Shea has accepted Sunderland have been a let-down this season and have been embroiled in a relegation fight before a Christmas period which includes home clashes with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
He said: 'Thankfully we have got Steven Fletcher. I don’t know where we would be without his goals.
'He came here with a bit of a price-tag on his head, he settled in straight away, he’s a great lad who works hard. The manager has said he is a quiet lad who doesn’t say much but as long as he is scoring goals he can stay as quiet as he likes.
'His finishing is top drawer as he has shown with his goals. They have been really top class finishes. He has had to deal with having a big price-tag in his next few moves but that has not affected him one bit.
'Fingers crossed we keep him fit as much as we can. He has had a few little niggles but nothing major, thankfully. It’s up to the rest of the lads now.
Leader: John O'Shea will take over as captain in Lee Cattermole's absence
'I’m sure Steven himself will want to
improve and he can do better. It’s about the whole team and squad –
especially when the manager makes or two changes, which he will during
have won just three Premier League games in 25 under O’Neill and were
dragged into the bottom three earlier in the month.
O’Shea, who will captain the side at Southampton on Saturday in Lee Cattermole’s absence, believes a major improvement is within Sunderland’s capabilities.
He added: 'We keep talking after games about finishing well, but we have zero points from them. We can’t keep saying that and we have to make sure we do our jobs for the 90 minutes. We can’t keep doing what we doing or the end of the season will come round very quickly.
Pressure: Martin O'Neill has endured a tough season so far
'The season has been stop-start. You think you are getting yourself going, then you suffer a defeat you’re not expecting and there’s a lot of room for improvement. There definitely is. We are not incapable of doing it.
'The top ten is not far away. We have seen where a team like Norwich have shot up the table with a good run and we are more than capable of that.
'You obviously hope at the start of the season you are up there competing for European positions and you are doing brilliantly but the reality is we were having a tough time last season as well.
'We are still in that tough spot at the minute. We will have to keep ourselves together to get out of it but we know we have the people and the manager to do it.'