SUNDERLAND striker Steven Fletcher is raring to get started in the Premier League after a lengthy summer lay-off.
The Scotsman endured a poor season on Wearside in between injuries, and underwent Achilles surgery in April which ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
The former Wolves striker returned to the Academy of Light early in order to step up his training, and his hard work has brought its rewards in pre-season to the tune of three goals.
With the opening fixture against West Bromwich Albion just around the corner, Fletcher finally feels capable of delivering the kind of form that saw him notch 11 goals in 2011-12 under previous manager Martin O'Neill.
“With the past two seasons I’ve had – I’ve not been fit at all – getting a full pre-season under my belt has been great," said Fletcher, after his side eased past Serie A side Udinese in their final pre-season match at Heritage Park.
"I did come back a little earlier but even then I had a longer spell out than I’m used to, as I’m usually in all summer. But it’s good to have a bit of a rest and take my mind off the season that has passed, so I can come back fit and ready to go.
"I needed a bit of time away, away from the physio room mainly, it was good to get a rest and come back stronger, obviously I’m feeling the benefits of it now.
"I’ve scored three goals in pre-season which I’m happy with, now I’m looking forward to the season starting.
"Even if you just get one goal, it helps. Just to get things going. Luckily I’ve got three, so I’m happy with how things have gone."
Fletcher has enjoyed a decent partnership alongside Connor Wickham in a front three, and believes manager Gus Poyet's policy of rotating his strike force throughout pre-season will stand Sunderland in good stead for the season ahead.
"I’ve got a good relationship with all of the attacking players to be honest," said the Scotland international. "We spend every day with each other and the gaffer changes things about a lot. One day you’ll be with one, another day the other, so you do build up a relationship.
"Everyone’s shown what they can do in pre-season, so it’s up to the gaffer now to make a decision."
Fletcher did not feature in Sunderland's successful run-in which saw the Black Cats avoid relegation with one game to spare, despite being at the bottom of the table over Christmas, but the striker hopes that his side can carry on where they left off, starting at The Hawthorns on Saturday.
He said: "We took a lot of confidence from the season we had, everyone wrote us off early doors, but the results we got at the end of the season were great. If we can take that into the start of this season, we’ll hopefully have a good year."