Steven Fletcher is heading back to pre-season training a week early as he bids to bounce back from a nightmare Black Cats' campaign.
The Scotland striker missed large parts of the season through injuries and was ruled out of the run-in with an ankle problem that prevented Gustavo Poyet from utilising him during the crucial weeks of the campaign. With speculation swirling around Fletcher during January there were question marks about whether he would have a central role in Poyet’s plans but the player is coming back seven days earlier than his colleagues – partly in a bid to prove his commitment to the Black Cat cause.
Sunderland also want to carry out a thorough assessment of his injury after worries that he played while not fully fit last season. The idea is for him to be wholly recovered by the time he gets the green light to spearhead the Black Cats’ attack next term.
Although Fletcher’s stock fell last season he will be a major asset for Poyet if he can recover the sort of goalscoring form that saw him hit 11 goals in his first campaign for Sunderland, with minimal service. Last term he notched just three but behind-closed-doors there was a feeling that he was rushed back into contention due to Sunderland’s shortage of strikers.
The Black Cats want to sign at least one striker and will run the rule over Ignacio Scocco in pre-season, with Poyet still hopeful that the forward can have a role to play next season. Forward Jozy Altidore – currently out at the World Cup with the USA – has signalled his desire to make a success of his Sunderland move despite a mixed first season on Wearside.
Meanwhile, Sunderland intend to pitch Costel Pantilimon into a battle for the number one slot with Vito Mannone next season after completing the signing of the former Manchester City goalkeeper yesterday.
Having agreed a four-deal, the Romania international said: “It is a great privilege and honour to join a club like Sunderland. They have an amazing history and tradition and passionate fans. When I left Manchester City it was important that I chose a club with good ambition and a manager who has the hunger and desire to take the team forward. After speaking with the boss, I knew this was the right place and he was the right man. I can’t wait to start.”
Mannone enjoyed a terrific first campaign with the Black Cats but Poyet believes that quality competition will push the Italian on even further – and he is prepared to try out both men in pre-season.