Sunderland move made me a better player says Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher
Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher believes his loan move to Sunderland last year made him a tougher player mentally.
The 23-year-old striker struggled to adapt after moving to Wearside midway through the 2017/18 campaign and left the Stadium of Light after scoring just two goals in 16 league appearances.
Fletcher first moved to Boro from West Ham in the summer of 2017 but has found game time hard to come by at the Riverside.
Yet the striker, who came through the ranks at Manchester United, has started the last four Championship games for Tony Pulis' side, scoring two goals in the process.
Fletcher opened the scoring for Boro against Brentford at the Riverside on Saturday afternoon, before the visitors scored twice in four second-half minutes to take the points.
But despite being disappointed with the result, Fletcher believes he's making progress on a personal level.
"It's difficult," Fletcher told BBC Tees when asked about his prolonged spells on the sidelines.
"Obviously I went to Sunderland last year and it was really tough, mentally it was tough but I feel like I'm a better player for it now.
"I had to grow up a lot going there and playing in front of fans who have such high expectations was tough.
"Again the club here have high expectations and the Premier League is where we want to be playing."
The defeat against Brentford saw Boro's automatic promotion hopes take another big hit, and Pulis' side are now 12 points off second-place Leeds United - albeit with a game in hand.
Boro remain fifth in the Championship but have now won just seven of their 17 league games at the Riverside this campaign.
"It's very disappointing," added Fletcher. "To concede the two goals like we did was a massive sucker punch and gives them the initiative.
"Again it's a game where we're scratching our heads as to how we haven't come out with at least a point or even three.
"We knew, the manager said in the week, that Brentford are a very, very good team and they will always create chances, but it was about us not taking ours.
"I've had a chance in the second half and if I score it puts the game to bed, 2-0, so I'm kicking myself about that."
Fletcher has also formed a promising partnership with fellow striker Britt Assombalonga in recent weeks.
The pair have started Boro's last four games together and Fletcher believes there's more to come.
“I feel like I’m thriving at the minute under the manager, especially playing with Britt.
"We’ve got a really good off-field partnership and on the field it shows."