REGARDLESS of what further movement there is on the transfer front at the Stadium of Light this month, Sunderland could already have made their best signing of the season.
When £12m was paid to Wolverhampton Wanderers in August, eyebrows were raised at the fee involved for Scotland international Steven Fletcher.
Eight goals and 22 appearances later and Fletcher has realised his decision to overlook interest from elsewhere – namely Aston Villa – was the right decision.
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Not only is he performing on the pitch and nearer to the place he called home from the age of ten in South Lanarkshire, he is showing a desire to stay in the North-East for the long-term after quickly adapting since his switch from the Midlands.
“It’s good to be home,” said Fletcher, whose mum, Mary, and step-father, Martin, live in Durham. “I’ve not stayed with my mum since I was about 16, when I moved away to become a pro, so it’s good to be back here – and she’s close to home.
“She cleans my house, she brings me food, she looks after me. I’ve lived everywhere, all around the country, but this feels like home. It’s also closer to Scotland for me, which is nice, because I’ve always been down south, so it’s nice to be back.
“Having your family close helps you settle. When you move away and you’re at a club on your own, you come back from training and you’re sitting there wondering what you’re going to do, but now I come back and my mum’s there, running about with the Hoover!
“The point is that I feel settled now and I’ve not felt like that for a long while. I’ve been to places that aren’t actually my home. I’m happy to be here and when there was the first sign of interest in me from Sunderland I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Born in Shrewsbury, he spent the early years of his childhood travelling around Army bases in Germany and England before his father, Kenny, died when he was ten.
At that stage he began living with his mum in South Lanarkshire.
During his spells at Burnley and Wolves, after his switch from Hibernian, the 25-yearold would regularly travel up the A1 to visit his mum.
Without the regular commuting to the region, he feels he now has more time to relax and enjoy his time as a professional footballer – and is excited about what might lie ahead at Sunderland.
The Black Cats might not have had the best of starts to the season, but Fletcher believes brighter times are ahead.
“It’s been good so far, even though we’d like to be a bit further up the table, but we’re working on that,” said Fletcher, ahead of tomorrow’s visit of West Ham United.
“It was a hard Christmas period for us, but I thought we got through it quite well and, personally speaking, I’m up to eight goals now and I’m happy with that.
“People were saying that other players had to chip in with goals, but they’ve started to do that. The boys are doing their jobs. At the back, we’re keeping a few clean sheets which is important and we’re scoring goals now, which is helping me out, so that’s good.
“The gaffer brought in a few new players last summer and what he’s going to do in January we don’t know, but we’re moving forward in the right direction, which is good.”
After Wednesday’s purchase of French midfielder Alfred N’Diaye from Turkish club Bursaspor, maanger Martin O’Neill is now looking at strengthening his defence and attack. He has made a bid for Al-Hilal defender Kader Mangane, while Hungarian Roland Juhasz and Groningen’s Virgil van Dijk are also under consideration.
Fletcher, relegated with with both Burnley and Wolves in recent seasons, said: “Obviously, we want to stay in the league first and foremost between now and the end of the season.
“But then there’s the FA Cup replay with Bolton next Tuesday and you never know what’s going to happen in those competitions. We want to stay in there for as long as we can and then if we can push up the league as well, we’ll be happy.
“The top ten has to be an attainable target for a club like this. You look at our squad and we’ve got some good players and if the manager can bring in a few more in January we’ve got a great chance.
“You can feel the potential everywhere, especially when you consider that we took 5,000 supporters to Bolton in the Cup, so we’ve got the support we need and we’ve got the players, we just need to put some results together and I think we will.”