SAFC hopeful Steve Fletcher will return before next season

Sunderland's Steven Fletcher is challenged by Fulham's Brede Hangeland during the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 2, 2013. See PA story SOCCER Sunderland. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.
Sunderland's Steven Fletcher is challenged by Fulham's Brede Hangeland during the Barclays Premier League match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday March 2, 2013. See PA story SOCCER Sunderland. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

STEVEN FLETCHER’S season-ending injury is unlikely to keep the Sunderland striker sidelined for August’s big kick-off, even if he does require an operation.

Sunderland are still to discover the best course of action to heal the ankle ligament damage Fletcher sustained on international duty last week.

While the injury will keep Fletcher sidelined for the Premier League finale, it will be another fortnight before the Scotland international knows whether he has to go under the knife or the ligaments are allowed to heal naturally.

But even if the 26-year-old does have surgery, he should be back training before the end of July and be ready for the start of next season.

Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill said: “That was the question I asked, was whether the operation would be an incredible extension.

“But I’m not sure that’s going to be the case.

“The timescale is not severely greater if he has to have an operation.

“You’re talking about maybe another month. It’s still going to be anywhere between 10 and 16 weeks.”

Sunderland had to wait until Wednesday before the swelling had sufficiently reduced on Fletcher’s ankle to judge the severity of the ligament damage.

And even then, the scan was still unclear.

Fletcher will have to wear a protective boot for the next fortnight before undergoing another MRI scan, where it will be judged whether the £12million striker needs to forego to the last resort of surgery.

“We had to wait until the swelling went down to get a proper scan on it and even then they weren’t completely sure,” added O’Neill.

“They’ve put him in this protective boot for a fortnight and then they’ll have another look.

“If they feel the ligament has been torn away and can’t be repaired, then they will do an operation.

“If they feel as if it can be saved, then most surgeons would say they’d rather let it heal naturally.”