STEVEN FLETCHER has defended Jozy Altidore’s record at Sunderland, and admitted he will be avoiding his Black Cats team-mate when he is called back to defend set-pieces in this evening’s international friendly at Hampden Park.

Fletcher’s Scotland side entertain a United States team that is likely to feature Altidore at centre-forward even though the 24-year-old is still to score a Premier League goal since leaving AZ Alkmaar to move to Wearside in the summer.

Altidore has been unable to replicate his impressive scoring record in a US shirt in the red-and-white of Sunderland, but Fletcher claims it would be wrong to belittle his impact solely because of his lack of goals.

The striker’s physical prowess and hold-up play have regularly been impressive, and having played alongside Altidore in last month’s derby win over Newcastle, Fletcher will be doing all he can to avoid his club mate tonight.

“I think I will bounce off Jozy if I go anywhere near him,” said Fletcher, who was forced into international exile under Craig Levein, only to return to play a pivotal role under current Scotland boss Gordon Strachan. “Have you seen the size of the lad?

“He has done really well since he joined the club. He has really put himself about on the pitch and his work rate is amazing. I think you have to look at everything he has brought to the club and not look at him purely in terms of goals.

“He set up both goals against Southampton (in the Capital One Cup) as well as the winner against Newcastle, and there is no way anyone should be complaining. He is a 100 per cent committed player every time, and the goals will definitely come.”

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Fletcher partnered Altidore in the recent games against Newcastle and Hull, but it was telling that Sunderland’s play was much more fluent when the pair were split up for last weekend’s 1-0 win over Manchester City.

Fletcher played as a lone striker in that game, and with Gustavo Poyet having been impressed with his side’s passing against City, there is every chance he will retain a version of a 4-5-1 system for the games against Stoke and Aston Villa that follow the international break.

Given his scoring record since moving from Wolves, Fletcher will continue to get the nod above Altidore, although there could still be matches where the American’s more robust approach proves valuable.

“Jozy has settled in really well and been doing a fantastic job at the club,” said Fletcher. “He is the sort of player who you know will give everything every time he goes on the pitch, and that’s the sort of player we need right now. In fact, it’s the sort of player every club needs.

“Jozy will want to score a few more goals, as all strikers do, but they will come. The important thing is he is contributing and in his last few games, he has been one of our best and most consistent players.

“His attitude is first class, and that’s one of the reasons why he has been such a success at both club and international level. His goalscoring record for USA is incredible, and that shows what a fine player he is.”

Fletcher has not played for Scotland since damaging his ankle in March’s 2-1 defeat to Wales, an injury that kept him out of the final two months of the season as Sunderland battled against the drop.

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He missed the last round of international matches with a shoulder problem, and Strachan is delighted to finally have him available as he looks to build on a strong start to his reign as Scotland boss.

“It’s good to have Steven with us here again,” said Strachan. “He looks excited and happy just to be back playing. He adds class to training, and adds class to games.”