Danny Graham up for Sunderland challenge

FORWARD THREAT: Danny Graham in his best performance in a Sunderland jersey, against Newcastle

FORWARD THREAT: Danny Graham in his best performance in a Sunderland jersey, against Newcastle

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DANNY GRAHAM hopes to make the most of his chance leading Sunderland’s line in the absence of top scorer Steven Fletcher.

But the £5million January signing has scoffed at suggestions that Fletcher’s season-ending injury has piled extra pressure on his shoulders.

Graham’s search for his first Sunderland goal continues, with the 27-year-old now drawing a blank in his first nine games for the Black Cats.

Yet the former Middlesbrough man’s two outings under Paolo Di Canio have shown a marked improvement and he believes that shows he can handle the responsibility of being Sunderland’s main striker.

Graham, who was goalless in his first six outings for former club Swansea, said: “I took it (Fletcher’s injury) fine, the press can take things how they want.

“It’s unfortunate that Fletcher got injured, he’s been a vital part of the club this season and scored 11 goals. It was a massive blow to the team.

“But that gives opportunities to other people and you’ve got to take it.

“I’ll hold my hands up, in my first few games, my performances weren’t too good.

“But I’ve set my standard now and hopefully I can maintain that.”

Head coach Di Canio has been keen to make Graham feel a wanted man, despite injury ruling out the Gateshead-born frontman of his first game in charge at Chelsea two-and-a-half weeks ago.

Graham suffered a knee injury on the eve of the trip to Stamford Bridge, but Di Canio still included him on the bench, even though he wasn’t fit to play a part.

“It was good that he showed he wanted me to be around the place,” said Graham.

“I did the knee problem on the eve of the Chelsea game in training, I had a shot and tweaked it. I had to get a scan to make sure everything was fine.

“The gaffer didn’t want to run the risk in case I was out for the rest of the season.

“But he came up to me and said he wanted me around the boys, even though I couldn’t warm up or anything.

“He wants everyone together so it was nice to be included.

“I got changed even though I knew I couldn’t come on.”