STEVEN FLETCHER is winning his battle to be fit for Sunderland’s Capital One Cup final against Manchester City.
The Scottish striker has been struggling with an Achilles injury since the turn of the year, with the problem having kept him out of this month’s matches with Newcastle and Hull.
At one stage, it looked as though surgery might be required, but a visit to a specialist earlier this month allayed some of Sunderland’s fears and resulted in a period of rest being prescribed instead.
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Fletcher is due to return to training next week, and while the Premier League trip to Arsenal on February 22 is likely to come too soon for him, he should be available for the Wembley final with Manchester City eight days later.
“He’s getting better,” said Black Cats boss Gustavo Poyet. “I’m looking forward to seeing him and he should start moving outside next week. He’s got a little chance for Arsenal, but a bigger chance for the final.
“I want him back as soon as possible, not only because we need him, but also because of the number of games we have to play before the final as well.
“I don’t want him to go into the last days (of his rehab) just to be in the final, although I have to admit I don’t know too much about the way Achilles injuries work. If you want to talk about knees, I’m an expert. But an Achilles? No.
“People who have had Achilles tendon problems have told me they’re quite tricky. When you think you’re right and it’s okay, it can come back. We will manage it properly and we’re hopeful he’ll be okay for the final.”
Sunderland’s participation in the League Cup final forced the postponement of the league game with West Brom, and the cancellation of Wednesday’s proposed game at Manchester City means the Black Cats now have two matches to slot in before the end of the season.
The tally will increase further if they continue to progress in the FA Cup, but goalkeeper Vito Mannone is unconcerned at the potential for a fixture pile-up in the final weeks of the campaign.
“We were thinking we were going into March with a lot of fixtures to come,” said Mannone. “Now, we’ll have quite a few more fixtures than the other relegation contenders, which is going to be tough mentally.
“We’re down there in the bottom three and we haven’t played as many as the rest. It’s going to be difficult, we know that.
“But we need to stay positive and, if we are playing every three days, we have to be on top of our game. In our position, we need to get as many points as possible.”
Sunderland supporters are being advised to retain their match tickets for the postponed game at the Etihad Stadium. All tickets will remain valid for the rescheduled fixture, which will be announced in due course, and any supporters who cannot attend on the new date will be offered a full refund.