Middlesbrough missed out on Sunderland ace Steven Fletcher

EX-BORO TARGET ... Sunderland's Steven Fletcher.
EX-BORO TARGET ... Sunderland's Steven Fletcher.

STEVEN Fletcher could have been lining up AGAINST Sunderland rather than for them in tonight’s cup-tie against Middlesbrough – had Malcolm Crosby been listened to at the Riverside.

The ex-Roker Park boss was a scout at Boro in 2008 when he recommended a little known young Hibernian centre-forward with immense potential.

Middlesbrough could have have signed the striker for just £1m at the time, but they passed on the opportunity and bought Marvin Emnes for £3.2m from Sparta Rotterdam instead, having spent £12m on Afonso Alves and £6m on Mido the previous season.

Boro were relegated in the campaign that followed, with Emnes failing to score in 15 league appearances, Mido notching six goals in 25 appearances and Alves just five in 31.

And while there are no guarantees Fletcher might have done better in that campaign – he scored 11 in 36 in the Scottish Premier League – he would comfortably have repaid the initial investment over the course of time.

The striker eventually moved to the Premier League in 2009 in a £3m deal after fellow Scot and former Falkirk and St Johnstone manager Owen Coyle, recognised his talent.

He moved to Wolves for £6.5m the following season having finished as Burnley’s top scorer in his sole campaign at Turf Moor.

And the striker moved to the Stadium of Light for £12m this summer having been Wolves’s top scorer in his two seasons at Molineux.

Crosby told the Gazette: “It’s interesting to see how his career has progressed, and I’m delighted to see him doing so well.

“We’ll never know how things might have worked out at Boro had he signed for them, but £1m always looked like a reasonable price for a player of his potential.

“I’d watched him play a few times, and then in the summer of 2008 Boro played Hibs in a pre-season friendly which Hibs lost 3-2, but Fletcher scored both goals.

“I think there were talks then and there was the £1m asking price, but I don’t think it got past the talks stage.

“Whether or not someone at Boro just didn’t fancy him, or whether it was the financial side of things, I don’t know.

“Sometimes I feel that Premier League clubs would rather spend a lot more money on a signing rather than pick up someone at a bargain price because it looks as though they’re going for the cheap option.

“But if you look around, you can sometimes find top quality players who aren’t being touted around at top prices, and Steven Fletcher would definitely come into that category.

“I’m pleased for him doing so well, especially now that he’s at Sunderland. It’s always good to see a player fulfilling his potential.”