Fletcher: His finishing was as good as Messi

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Sports Reporter

HAVING already reached double figures this season, Steven Fletcher continues to impress since joining Sunderland in the summer, but team-mate Craig Gardner believes the striker doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

Fletcher's brace in last weekend's 3-2 win at Wigan took his tally to ten goals since arriving in a £12m move from Championship side Wolves last August.

At the time of the transfer, the substantial fee paid for the Scotland international was questioned by many, but manager Martin O'Neill admitted after the win at the DW Stadium that the striker is worth every penny of owner Ellis Short's money.

His first at Wigan showed great instinct to smuggle the ball in from close range after his initial header had deflected back to him off goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, and his second showed a touch of real class when he curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner from just inside the area.

Gardner - who got Sunderland back into the game with his equalising penalty - believes Fletcher's finishing is just as good as some of the best strikers in the world.

"Fletch's second goal was top class," said Gardner. "It was up there with the likes of Rooney, Messi, van Persie or Ronaldo. If they scored goals like that, it would be talked about for months.

"I just wish Fletch had more recognition because he is a top-class striker and he's shown he is worth every penny.

"Scoring ten goals already is different class. I can't big him up enough, he knows how good he is and we know how good he is. If a ball goes in the box you expect to net to ruffle when Fletch is playing."

Sunderland will enjoy a rare weekend without a competitive game after their shock exit from the FA Cup in last Tuesday's defeat against Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light.

Their next game sees Swansea City - and top transfer target Danny Graham - come to Wearside on Tuesday night and the Black Cats will have the advantage of over a week's rest.

Swansea aren't in action over the weekend either after their FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, but they were part of a Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Wednesday night, which they won to set up a Wembley final against League Two side Bradford.

The Black Cats were given four days off after the win at Wigan, returning to training on Thursday and Gardner hopes their break will help their chances of winning a third successive league game on Tuesday night.

He said: "It gives us a chance to recharge our batteries because there's been a lot of games over the Christmas period.

"We've got Swansea next and the lads will have a chance to put their feet up and rest. Also the lads that haven't played, it gives them a chance to get a couple of days training in and not be travelling. We'll lighten things up just before the game but we can dig deep and try to carry on our form in the league."

O'Neill had hoped to have a new striker at the club by the time Swansea travel to the North-East, but the Swans appear to be dragging their feet over the sale of Graham.

The Liberty Stadium club are keen to bring in a replacement striker before they let the Gateshead-born forward leave, but their primary target Kenwyne Jones is attracting interest from Turkey.

The Welsh side have already had a £3m bid for the former Black Cats man rejected. Graham has intimated to friends and family that he is keen to return to his native North-East, but the fact he is in with a chance of winning a trophy could also play a part in whether he decides to move on this month.

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