HE may have been questioned for paying £12m to sign Steven Fletcher, but Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill believes the striker is worth every penny after he helped Sunderland beat Wigan 3-2 on Saturday.
The Scottish international scored twice at the DW Stadium to give the Black Cats three points, a win that moves them up to 11th in the table.
Fletcher’s brace at Wigan took his tally for the season to double figures and with four months left of the season there is every chance the Scot could finish the season with 20 goals or more.
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O’Neill’s decision to pay Wolves £12m for the striker raised plenty of eyebrows in the summer, but so far the striker has justified his price tag and it proving to be one of the best signings of the season.
“He’s been fantastic, he really has been fantastic for us,”
said O’Neill, who is hoping to bring in a new strike partner for Fletcher in the form of Danny Graham.
“We’ve relied on him in the first couple of months when he was the only player scoring a goal for us.
“Since that time we’ve shared a few around but he’s really top-class, a top-class centre-forward, not just in the goals he’s got – that’s ten for us – but the way he brings others into play and for one not so tall he’s strong. He’s what Sir Bobby Robson would call a proper centre-forward.
“We took him in the summer time and we’re pretty pleased. It seemed to be a bit of a saga at the time, but he has been worth it. Michu’s been a great signing at £2.5m, or whatever it was. We paid £12m and he’s been worth every single penny.
“I never felt I overpaid. Like everything else we’d have liked him a little bit cheaper and Wolves wanted a dearer price but it seemed a long, drawn affair. I’m delighted I stuck with it.”
No one can argue with that given the season Fletcher is having, but O’Neill appears to have struck gold with another signing, France Under-21 international Alfred N’Diaye.
The 22-year-old made his first start at the DW Stadium and he produced a performance to whet the appetite of Sunderland fans of what they could be in store for.
A man-mountain, N’Diaye bossed Wigan’s three-man team in the centre of the park and also impressed going forward when he swung in a superb cross for Fletcher’s first goal.
The midfielder appeared to tire in the last 20 minutes, but O’Neill believes once he acclimatises to the fast pace of the Premier League, his £3.5m buy could be a major asset for the club.
“I call him Alfred. He doesn’t know that yet!” O’Neill said.
“He’s a strong lad, really strong. It’s not just that, he’s got a bit of energy, a bit of vitality.
“He wants to improve, which is great. I think when he gets to grips with the league he’ll be a decent asset for us.
“He’s very strong, I must admit. But I think we’ve lacked a bit of physical presence in our side here for the last 13 months I’ve been here. “It gives the smaller players who can play a bit of a chance to play.
“It was important for us. We don’t have any real physical presence in our side.
“I think he can improve. He’s played out in Turkey for some time and of course there is room for improvement. He is 22 years of age.
“Once or twice in his haste to play what he would think was the quick ball he’s played it and it’s gone astray but I think when he gets to grips with it all he will be fine. It was a terrific debut for him.
“With the three players in the middle of the field his job generally was central.
“His English is pretty decent so he understands things pretty well. But he found himself out there (on the left) and it was a great ball he put in for (Steven) Fletcher’s goal. I think it was his enthusiasm to want to get around the pitch, and that’s no bad thing.”
The midfielder seems full of enthusiasm and after the disappointment of Tuesday’s shock exit from the FA Cup, O’Neill believes N’Diaye’s arrival has lifted the rest of the squad.
He said: “You’ll probably say, ‘Well, what happened on Tuesday’ but I actually do believe his enthusiasm has rubbed off on the other players. I’m not saying it’s incredibly strong, but there’s competition for places and it’s something we haven’t had here for quite some considerable time.
“There’s definitely been a response from the other players.
In fairness, the good players at the football club do want to see the team try to be strengthened.
“The players have played with a bit more confidence.
They were disappointed on Tuesday night and in the back of my mind I would like to have played Everton in the next round of the cup – we might have got beaten anyway.
Today makes up for a lot of that.”