STEVEN FLETCHER is doubling his efforts to return to full fitness after being ruled out of Sunderland’s entire pre-season campaign.
Fletcher has been on the sidelines since March after injuring ankle ligaments on international duty with Scotland before undergoing surgery on the problem.
But last season’s top scorer is making progress on the comeback trail, in his bid to add to Paolo Di Canio’s attacking options.
Fletcher is now running unhindered and is undergoing double training sessions at the Academy of Light to bring his fitness up to scratch.
That progress tallies with the timescale envisaged for Fletcher’s return after he was originally earmarked to be out for 16 weeks, if he required an operation.
Saturday’s Premier League opener against Fulham will come far too early for the 26-year-old and the £12million frontman may have to wait until the conclusion of next month’s international break before being back in first-team contention.
But the sight of Fletcher back on the training pitch is a welcome one for Di Canio, who told SportMail last month that he was pleased with the former Wolves man’s progress.
“There is a big improvement,” said Di Canio. “We are very happy with his progress and we are waiting for him.’
With Fletcher sidelined for the curtain-raiser against the Cottagers, summer signing Jozy Altidore is likely to partner Stephane Sessegnon in attack at the weekend.
But Fletcher’s return will give Di Canio options in attack, with Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-won and academy product Mikael Mandron also available.
Sunderland continue to be linked with further recruits up front, despite Di Canio repeatedly stressing his focus is on landing a creative midfielder and a left-back.
The Black Cats are mooted to have made an enquiry to take Juventus’ Italian international Fabio Quagliarella on a season-long loan, with a view to a permanent move next summer.
And reports in Italy yesterday suggested Sunderland have made a £2.5million approach to sign Lazio striker Sergio Floccari, who is in the final year of his contract at the Stadio Olimpico.
At 31 though, Floccari doesn’t fit the profile of players Sunderland have targeted this summer, with new director of football Roberto De Fanti eager to land recruits who have the potential to be developed.