A REJUVENATED Ashley Fletcher has described how he is growing in confidence with every game he stays in the Middlesbrough team after surviving a six-month period where he was expected to leave.

Since returning from a loan spell at Sunderland at the end of last season, Fletcher interested numerous clubs and were ready to push for a deal but Boro couldn’t afford to lose him having failed to make further additions.

Hull City and Birmingham’s failure to secure his services in the January transfer window led to him finally being given a chance to start in the Championship under Tony Pulis and he is justifying his place in the team.

Fletcher scored for the second home game in a row to take his tally to two for the season in the league, adding to the four he scored in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup earlier in the campaign.

The 23-year-old stayed on the pitch when Pulis controversially took off Britt Assombalonga and replaced him with George Friend in the 2-1 defeat to Brentford on Saturday, further highlighting how he is now being regarded differently by his boss.

Fletcher said: “I don’t think I was that close to leaving in January but it was well known the club wanted to bring in wingers, Raj van la Parra came in, and it was one of those things. If a couple of players had come in then I think I would have gone out on loan to play football.

“Football is a crazy game. I have always been mentally strong and believed there would be a turnaround for me. I always thought if I got a chance I would be good enough to get in the team and score goals. I would like to think the manager and fans are impressed at the moment with me.

He added: “I am loving my time on the pitch, I didn’t play as much as I would have liked last season, you have to wait for your opportunities and the manager has shown faith in me recently and I feel like I am thriving.

“As a footballer all you want to do is play football. I could have gone out on loan a few times, you just have to stay professional until your chance comes and for me it was the Blackburn game. 

“I then have had a chance in the last few games and that helps me with confidence. With every game I feel like I am getting better and fitter, if I can add goals and help Middlesbrough to climb then I will be happy.”

It has been a frustrating couple of years since Fletcher went out on loan when he was at Manchester United to help Barnsley to promotion from League One, scoring eight goals in the final few months of the season.  A move to West Ham only led to him being sold to Middlesbrough the following summer and only recently has he found himself starting four league games in a row.

Fletcher said: “As a striker you always think about when you were at your best. Obviously I went to Barnsley, did really well, and that season feels similar to this season. 

“I had to build my way into the team that season because I wasn’t starting at all. Around this time was when I started playing and scoring. If I can emulate that then who knows what could happen."   

Even though it would be easy to believe that Pulis was not his biggest fan because of his lack of appearances in the Championship, Fletcher is certainly starting to give the manager what he wants from his forwards.

Fletcher said: “The manager has said at the minute you have the shirt and my job is to keep it. If I have the manager’s backing I have to repay the faith in him with goals."

All eyes will be centred on whether Fletcher partners Britt Assombalonga in attack against Preston on Wednesday, when Middlesbrough will look to close the 12-point gap to second place.

Assombalonga was dragged off just after the hour against Brentford as Middlesbrough looked to finish off the job at a time when they held a one goal advantage courtesy of Fletcher’s opener.

The move backfired because the Bees hit two goals to claim a first win on Teesside since 1938.