Sunderland look to hand Fletcher Reading debut

Steven Fletcher
Steven Fletcher
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STEVEN Fletcher should be in Sunderland’s squad to face Reading at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Progress was expected to be swift on the signing of the Scottish striker today after Wolves and Sunderland finally agreed a fee for the wantaway 25-year-old.

And for the second time in a week, Sunderland should include a new striker in their squad – though, like Louis Saha at Arsenal – a place on the substitutes’ bench looks likely.

The breakthrough in weeks of negotiations finally came yesterday.

Sunderland, as the Echo revealed yesterday, are insisting they have not budged beyond the £12m figure they viewed as their final offer for the striker, though Wolves are claiming the figure is closer to the £15m they demanded for him last week.

But whatever the actual sum – and it is likely to go down as undisclosed – Fletcher will take over from ex-Black Cats goalkeeper Craig Gordon as the most expensive Scottish footballer in history.

Martin O’Neill will be elated when the deal finally goes through, even if the club pays more than they had originally hoped for one of their chief summer targets.

The Sunderland manager sees the Scot as the ideal player to transform the side.

Fletcher thrives on crosses and O’Neill sees the Wolves man as the perfect target for the balls whipped in from the wing by James McClean and Seb Larsson.

He also believes the Scot’s eagerness to be in the box, mixing it with rival defenders, will ease the physical pressure on Stephane Sessegnon in games and allow the Benin international, along with midfielder Craig Gardner to prosper from knockdowns to the edge of the area.

The signing would see the manager’s rebuilding plans finally start to take shape with barely a week of the transfer window remaining.

The two Bosman signings – Carlos Cuellar and Louis Saha – are both the wrong side of 30 but still look like class acts on what evidence we’ve seen so far.

O’Neill was delighted with the efforts of the defender and striker in helping secure a draw against Arsenal at the weekend. But Fletcher’s arrival would transform Sunderland’s attacking options, giving them the penalty box presence of a player yet to reach his prime, and a striker who last season outscored Darren Bent, game for game.

Nor will Sunderland’s efforts to strengthen end there. Far from it.

The Black Cats have a £10m bid on the table for Manchester City’s unsettled winger Adam Johnson and are fighting hard against two more established Premier League clubs to win his signature.

That signing too would be a massive statement of intent from a club which has already seen 18 players leave this summer in a drive for quality over quantity. On top of that, Sunderland are looking for a top-quality full-back to finally end the club’s long run without an established left-back.