Steven Fletcher believes the congested Premier League table has given Sunderland plenty to play for in the second half of the season – and after his goal against Cardiff City the Scot is ready to play his part.
Although they will end 2013 bottom of the table, Saturday’s dramatic draw cut the gap between Sunderland and safety to two points. Even Wednesday’s visitors Aston Villa are only two wins away in 13th.
It greatly encourages Fletcher, relegated with Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
He said of the fight to beat the drop: “Compared to the other two I’ve been in, this is probably the tightest one. At Burnley I think we were dead and buried by this time. We still have a massive chance. We have a lot of good games coming up.
“Our home form has been good, we’ve beaten Manchester City and a few other teams, so we just have to keep it going.
“If we can keep picking up points like we did on Saturday we’ll be fine.”
Although Sunderland desperately need to start beating the teams around them, a point which extended their unbeaten run to five matches was great reward for their spirit under the circumstances. Again without central defenders John O’Shea and Wes Brown, the Black Cats were utterly bereft for the first half-hour at the Cardiff City Stadium.
When they finally started creating chances, Jozy Altidore missed an open goal from yards out.
Their best player of the first half, Fabio Borini, collapsed during the interval and was taken to a Cardiff hospital on a drip.
He was discharged having simply suffered for persuading coach Gustavo Poyet to allow him to play when ill, something Adam Johnson did not do.
Once Fraizer Campbell put Cardiff 2-0 up after 58 minutes, the visitors cranked up the pressure on David Marshall’s goal.
Fletcher’s was only his third goal this season and his first since October’s Wear-Tyne derby.
He has appeared drained of confidence the longer his barren spell has gone on and featured less as a result.
A half-time substitute in south Wales, he now hopes to win back his starting place alongside, rather than instead of, Altidore.
Fletcher added: “I’ve not really been playing of late so to get on and get a goal was pleasing to push my claim for a start.
“It was nice to show the gaffer we can play together and hopefully he takes that on board.
“That’s the first goal with my foot this season.
“I’d not scored since the derby but hopefully there are more goals to come.
“When you score goals you just want to get out there and play another game.
“Luckily we have one on Wednesday (against Villa) so hopefully I can get a start this time and score.”
The game came a day after Cardiff controversially sacked manager Malky Mackay and Fletcher felt it inspired the hosts.
He said: “When a club loses a manager they usually go out and get a result and they started off very fast and caught us on the back foot.
“We came in at half-time and the gaffer had a few words to say.
“We had to go out there and prove we’re still fighting away.
“He just put a bit of purpose back into us and he wanted us to keep the ball a bit better than we had been doing at times.”
After victory at Everton – Sunderland’s first away from home this season – it has been a positive start to the festive season.
Fletcher added: “The win the other day gave us a little boost to take into the game but they caught us on the back foot with how quickly they started.
“We fought hard, though, and if there had been two extra minutes we might have nicked it.”