JOHN O’Shea ranks Steven Fletcher among the best strikers he has played alongside, as the Sunderland frontman looks to rediscover his scoring touch in the Wear-Tyne derby.
Fletcher drew a blank for the first time in red and white in Sunderland’s last outing at Manchester City after netting five in his previous four outings for the Black Cats.
But the £12m summer signing, set to start for Scotland against Belgium in tonight’s World Cup qualifier, will carry the hopes of Wearside this Sunday when he makes his derby bow against the Magpies.
Fletcher has received a sterling endorsement from Sunderland defender O’Shea though, who is confident the 25-year-old will get even better for Martin O’Neill’s men.
Ex-Manchester United man O’Shea, who played with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo during his time at Old Trafford, said of Fletcher: “He’s definitely up there because of the way he takes his goals. His left foot is top class.
“I don’t want to put any more pressure on him because he has enough on his plate, but he’s definitely up there with some of the other strikers I have played with. He’s top class.
“I’d only played against Fletcher a couple of times before and he barely got a touch, but he scored two goals!
“When you see him in training you realise what a good player he is, not just as a finisher but his all-round game.
“He’s also getting fitter and stronger so hopefully he will benefit us even more.”
Fletcher’s goal return has immediately banished concerns over his price tag after relegated Wolves held out for what initially seemed a lofty fee for the former Burnley man.
But O’Shea says the support of ex-Wolves and Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy was a sign that Fletcher would justify O’Neill’s investment.
McCarthy, who handed O’Shea his Republic of Ireland debut 11 years ago, paid £7m to take Fletcher to Molineux, and recommended the Scot to O’Neill this summer.
“We got away with a great deal – he should have been double the price!” added O’Shea, due to line up for the Republic of Ireland against the Faroe Islands tonight.
“I think the manager set Steven out as his main target quite early on in pre-season and Wolves knew that the manager was very keen on him. Sometimes transfers work out like that.
“But I saw Mick McCarthy on the TV and he said that even if Sunderland had to pay £12m for Fletcher, they were getting a bargain.
“Mick is a good judge.”