Steven Fletcher sings praises of talented Sundderland youngsters

FEELING THE STRAIN: Steven Fletcher training in Portugal
FEELING THE STRAIN: Steven Fletcher training in Portugal

STEVEN FLETCHER believes Sunderland’s young guns will have benefited from their opportunities during pre-season.

Sunderland’s need for further reinforcements to a thread-bare squad has forced boss Gus Poyet to turn to members of the club’s Under-21 squad to fill in the holes so far during the Black Cats’ friendly programme.

Only El-Hadji Ba and Charis Mavrias have travelled here to Portugal, with the pair expected to be involved in tonight’s first friendly in the Algarve against Recreativo de Huelva.

But the likes of Duncan Watmore and George Honeyman have impressed in the three domestic games Sunderland have won so far during pre-season and striker Fletcher believes that has been an encouraging sign for the club’s long-term progress.

“The transfer window is open for a lot longer yet,” Fletcher told SportMail.

“There’s plenty of time for the gaffer to do what he can do.

“But some of the younger lads have really shown what they can do so far.

“There’s younger players here who’ve not really had a chance yet who have been doing well.

“There’s players who are here for the future.”

Fletcher’s own position next season will be challenged by one of the youngest members of Sunderland’s squad, with Connor Wickham looking to build on his contribution to the Black Cats’ dramatic escape from relegation.

“Connor had a great end to the season and if he can carry that on, we’ve got a great chance next year of doing a lot better,” said Fletcher.

But for this week’s three games in the Algarve, Poyet is likely to interchange Wickham, Fletcher and Jozy Altidore as the players continue to build up their match sharpness.

Sunderland’s squad have continued the routine of double training sessions in Portugal that they began at the start of the month, with the first beginning at 9am and then a later work-out at 5pm.

It’s a tough regime, but one which Fletcher believes the players have relished.

“It was a long summer with the World Cup, so it’s been good to get back in and get training again,” added the 27-year-old.

“When you first get told you’re back in at five, you’re like, really?

“But the rest we get between the sessions is good for us.

“It’s been tough, but it’s all minutes in the bank for us.”