JOHN O’SHEA believes Sunderland would have been lost without Steven Fletcher’s goals this season as the fitagain Scotland striker prepares for a crucial trip to Southampton tomorrow.

Fletcher has been training again after making a quick recovery from the back complaint which forced him off at half-time during last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United.

The Black Cats are in desperate need of their £12m front-man being fit to face the fourth-bottom Saints, knowing there is only a point and a place separating the two clubs in the Premier League.

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There has been little for Sunderland fans to cheer about this season, but the goalscoring return of Fletcher has at least kept Martin O’Neill’s team above the drop zone.

O’Shea said: “Thankfully we have got him. 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, is a great lad and works hard.

“The manager has said he is a quiet lad who doesn’t say much. 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.

“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.”

After winning just three of their last 25 Premier League fixtures, there is a need for Sunderland to continue to score goals from other areas after an earlier over-reliance on Fletcher.

With festive fixtures against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool, Sunderland are aware of the importance of returning from the south coast tomorrow with a positive result.

There have been indications in recent matches that their dreadful run of form is about to take a turn for the better.

O’Shea said: “We keep talking after games about finishing well, but we have zero points from those games. We can’t keep saying that. We have to make sure we do our jobs for the 90 minutes.

“We can’t keep doing what we have been doing or the end of the season will come round very quickly. Look, you will always face an uphill task if you give goals away like we did at Old Trafford last weekend.

When we got ourselves together at half-time, we gave it a right go after half-time. We need to make sure we do that from the start.”

Having watched Norwich climb away from the relegation zone and up to eighth, O’Shea says lessons can encouragement taken from the Canaries’ improvement.

“We are not too far away from the top ten and you have seen from teams like Norwich that you can soon climb up the table, we are more than capable of doing that,” said the experienced Irishman.

“We can put a run together like that so we are not too far away. It has been disappointing, we are not trying to hide from that fact. We know as a team and a squad we could be doing better.

“A good run of games will get us away from where we are in the table. It is not too far away but there’s plenty of room for improvement.”

He added: “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.

“We need to get our consistency back and make sure we have stronger home form, which is going to be key for the new year, starting with the two massive home games we have coming up.”