I've been watching Steven Fletcher with some interest over the last few weeks, trying to fathom whether he is unfit or something a little more serious. I feel like I'm treading on thin ice questioning a player so rightly held in high regard by us fans - but is he a victim or part of our problems?
I suppose the one thing that strikes me the most about the fitness argument is how persistent Gus Poyet is in playing him, as he has featured in all but 26 minutes of league football under the Uruguayan. He looked pretty sharp in the derby victory too, but other than that has failed to make much of an impact on games.
Such little an impact is highlighted in that he has created one chance and had one shot on target in the last four games, four shots overall (stats courteously of FourFourTwo). It is pretty clear that recently Fletch has been off the boil recently, sluggish even. He has lost a yard of pace and seems to be making all the wrong runs. He has lost any sharpness - in stark contrast to the player whose goals kept us afloat last season with similarly poor service (if not worse).
We can allow him some excuses. A lengthy lay off is one thing, missing pre-season is yet another - then having another spell on the side-lines shortly after and it's easy to see why he isn't firing on all cylinders. And let's be fair, of those four games mentioned above we had nine men in one, ten men in another and Man City in another. Let's not forget the complete lack of creativity around him either, quite a big point that actually.
So how much of our problems can be blamed on Fletcher? Well, whilst he isn’t as accountable as some – we can’t possibly be blind to the situation. His performances are definitely part of the problem and it’s no surprise that we are finding it difficult to score whilst he is finding it difficult to perform. It further highlights the mediocrity of attacking prowess stemming from our midfield in that they can neither help him nor score themselves and that makes a creative player in that position all the more a necessity in January.
Jozy Altidore has taken quite a bit of stick this season, including a little from me, but with the tight fixture list in December it's imperative he gets more game time. Perhaps home games against Chelsea and Tottenham would be ideal situations to rest Fletcher and start Altidore. That's not hoying up the white flag, these are football matches we can expect the opposition to impose themselves upon us and perhaps it would be wise relying a little more on the counter attack. If we can’t boss possession against Aston Villa we won’t against either of these teams. That's how Jozy scored most of his impressive 31 goals in Holland last year - counter attacking.
There is absolutely no doubt that Fletch is the better striker, and no doubt in my mind he will be firing again soon, but I think a week or two on the bench will do him the world of good.
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