STEVEN FLETCHER hopes an injury-free end to the season can see him rediscover a much-needed scoring touch.
Fletcher made his first start since January in yesterday’s sorry FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Hull City, as Sunderland’s hopes of a second trip to Wembley were ended by a nine-minute second half collapse at the KC Stadium.
The Scotland international, ineffective yet starved of service in the 3-0 defeat, has been hampered by ankle, shoulder and Achilles problems this season – only returning from the latter in the Capital One Cup final.
Fletcher insists the Achilles injury was having a big impact on his performances, with his last goal for Sunderland coming in December’s draw at Cardiff City.
But after undergoing a successful three weeks of treatment from Sunderland’s medical team, the 26-year-old is eager to play his part in the Black Cats’ bid to remain in the Premier League.
Fletcher told the Echo: “It was affecting me a lot to be honest. At times, it was unbearable, even in training.
“I had to pull out of training a few times, but what the medical team have done, seems to have worked.
“Playing 120 minutes in the Man United game (Capital One Cup semi-final second leg) didn’t help and after that, it got to the point where it was unbearable.
“I’ve not really had any problems since I had a couple of weeks out. I had an injection right at the start when I first felt it and that seems to have sorted it out. Let’s hope it stays that way.
“I need a goal and then hopefully a few more will come. I’m just concentrating on getting the minutes just now, and hopefully the goals will follow.
“Every striker wants a goal, and I need one to kick-start me.
“I haven’t really had a run this season because of injuries, so it would be good to get one.
“It was my first 90 in a while yesterday, so it was good to get that under my belt. I’m just disappointed about the result.”
Fletcher, one of six changes to the starting line-up, admits Sunderland’s previous appearance at Wembley this season was “no consolation” to their inability to secure a second trip there.
Sunderland received a first half boost when Oscar Ustari saved Sone Aluko’s penalty.
But the Black Cats struggled with both their ball retention and attacking threat throughout and then crashed out of the competition after conceding three times in nine minutes during the second half.
Fletcher added: “It’s no consolation that we’ve already been to Wembley, probably more disappointment to be honest. It gave the boys a taste of what it’s like and we wanted to go back.
“We’ve got a big task ahead of us now. We want to stay in the Premier League. We’ve got to put this behind us and get ready for a huge game next week against Crystal Palace.
“It went wrong for us in nine minutes. There were a few mistakes from ourselves. We knew if we made any, they would capitalise on them and they did.
“We’re disappointed with ourselves because we know it wasn’t our best performance, particularly after such a good one in the final.
“We thought when Oscar saved the penalty, we could get on top and go on to win the game. But obviously that didn’t happen.”