A refreshed Steven Fletcher completed his pre-season happy he has given Gustavo Poyet a decision to make.
Although the Scot was unable to add to his three warm-up goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Udinese, he played well enough to be in the Sunderland coach’s thoughts for the Premier League opener at West Bromwich Albion.
Fletcher started the game as he had finished the last at Heritage Park – part of a three-man attack also featuring Connor Wickham.
It had seemed Wickham would start the competitive action as the lone striker in Poyet’s preferred 4-1-4-1 shape but the pair’s form has left room for manoeuvre.
“It’s good to have competition,” said Fletcher, guaranteed his place when he belatedly began previous Wearside campaigns.
“I had the same at Wolves when it was Kevin Doyle and Sylvain Ebanks Blake. The more choice the gaffer has, the better the squad. It’ll be a good battle for the places, but as you’ve seen the gaffer will play a few of us at a time.
“I’ve got a good relationship with all of the attacking players. We spend every day with each other and the gaffer changes things about a lot, so you do build up a relationship.
“Everyone’s shown what they can do in pre-season, so it’s up to the gaffer to make a decision.”
Fletcher showed in his debut season what a potent weapon he can be, scoring 11 goals in 28 league appearances. Never fully fit after missing pre-season with an ankle injury, he made only 13 league starts last term, scoring three. Meanwhile, Wickham’s five goals in the final six matches kept Sunderland in the league and raised hopes he can be a key figure – if he agrees to extend his contract beyond next summer.
Fletcher, whose last competitive appearance came on March 15, admitted he had to recharge his batteries after a terrible 2013-14 personally.
“I needed a bit of time away, away from the physio room mainly,” he reflected. “It was good to get a rest and come back stronger.
“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.
“I did come back a little earlier but even I’m usually in all summer. But it’s good to take my mind off the season that has passed.
“I’ve scored three goals in pre-season which I’m happy with. Even if you just get one goal, it helps just to get things going.”
Jozy Altidore is Sunderland’s other option up front, but was restricted to half an hour in his first appearance since pulling a hamstring at the World Cup.
Sebastian Larsson missed the win because of the imminent arrival of his child, while Adam Johnson sat it out as a precaution. Patrick van Aanholt and Charis Mavrias went off injured, but Poyet seemed confident both would be fit for Saturday.
He expects signings this week and has not given up on Fabio Borini but admitted on Thursday he must consider alternatives, reportedly including loaning Tottenham Hotspur’s Nacer Chadli.
Manchester City’s summer signing Bruno Zuculini is another linked with a loan but Poyet insisted: “We cannot comment because it is not going to get done. There are too many things.”
Danish sources claim David Moberg Karlsson is close to joining Nordsjaelland permanently.
The 20-year-old winger was signed by previous director of football Roberto di Fanti but does not feature in Poyet’s long or short-term plans. His only appearance came in the League Cup against Milton Keynes Dons and his impact at Kilmarnock, where he spent the second half of last season on loan, was negligible.