ASHLEY FLETCHER has been issued the challenge of proving how much he wants to be a success story at Middlesbrough as the prospect of a January exit nears.

Manager Tony Pulis is yet to hand Fletcher a starting spot in the Championship, in fact the former West Ham man has not been in the first XI for any Middlesbrough league games since October 21 last year when they suffered defeat to Cardiff.

But Fletcher has shown he still has an eye for a goal, having scored three times in his three Carabao Cup appearances and he is expected to start against Burton in the quarter-final on December 18.

He has also scored regularly for the Under-23s this season, so some fans have quite rightly raised the idea of him being given a chance under Pulis at a time when the forwards have all been in and out of the team.

Fletcher was back on the bench for the recent draw at Preston but was overlooked again for last Saturday’s heavy defeat to Aston Villa at the Riverside. Pulis, though, does not seem too keen on throwing him into the mix at this stage.

“No, he's not (miles away),” said Pulis. “I think the big thing with Fletch is his personality. He's got to come out of himself. Technically, he's a very, very gifted player, but it's not technique alone that gets you there.

“His personality, he's got to be ... you can go through a training session and not notice Fletch being there and he's got to grow. He's going to be a late, late developer. As a kid he's an absolutely fabulous lad and technically he's excellent, we just want him to grab it.

“He's been at Man United, he's left, he's gone to West Ham, and he's left and he's come to us and he's got to start grasping it.”

Middlesbrough paid £6m to the Hammers in the summer of last year but he has only started three games in the league. The 23-year-old clearly has time on his side, but he is more likely to be farmed out on loan again – unless Pulis decides to keep him for a semi-final battle in the Carabao Cup.

Last January Fletcher was allowed to go to Sunderland and when he left Pulis suggested that he had seen enough of the forward to believe there was enough potential in him to monitor him closely.

He is still waiting for that first team chance, with Pulis clearly waiting to see more from him in the dressing room and on the training ground.

Pulis said: “Fletch had a bad at Sunderland and the crowd gave him some stick so to get over that, that was a bit of character for him. You'd think that would give him that bit of edge. But there is a player in there.”

There are a number of clubs keen on taking him on loan in January, Pulis added: “I think that'll be determined by what we bring in and what we do.

“I think the important thing is let's get through these games before the window opens and do the best we possibly can and stay up there.

“We've got a tough tie against Burton in the cup and if we get through that got an opportunity to play one of the top teams in the country home and away.”

Fletcher impressed during a loan spell at Barnsley in 2016 and that led to his move to West Ham. Middlesbrough then moved to pay big money for him a year later, when Garry Monk was in charge, but he has struggled to reach the heights he did for the Tykes.

Birmingham and Sheffield United are two of the clubs known to have shown an interest in Fletcher in the past. He is unlikely to be part of the team that faces Blackburn this Saturday, as Middlesbrough look to close the gap on the top two.