PAOLO DI CANIO is confident that Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher can form a lethal strike partnership after the Scot’s return to fitness.
Last season’s top scorer, Fletcher, was involved in Sunderland’s first-team squad for the first time since March on Tuesday night after being included as an unused substitute in the Capital One Cup victory over MK Dons.
In Fletcher’s absence, £6million summer signing Jozy Altidore (pictured, right) has led the line during the opening three games of the campaign, with the American international grabbing his first Sunderland goal against the League One Dons.
But head coach Di Canio is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to pair his two big-money strikers together and believes they both have the natural scoring instincts to be a success.
Di Canio told the Echo: “Fletcher is a player who give us another option.
“Jozy and him are the two players in the squad who are natural goalscorers.
“The others, yes, everyone can score – Ji (Dong-won), Connor (Wickham) and Sess (Stephane Sessegnon) – but they (Fletcher and Altidore) are the players who score goals on instinct, players who smell the goal.
“So he’s (Fletcher) important to us.
“You need players who can spot mistakes in the box and capitalise on them.
“We will be putting a lot of balls into the box this season and we need players like Fletcher, like Jozy, who will thrive on them.
“Together they can be a very good partnership I feel.
“And so, yes, I’m looking forward to it because, in my opinion, Fletcher is intelligent, he understands what you ask.”
Fletcher netted 11 times for Sunderland last season before suffering ankle ligament damage on international duty. It was the third successive Premier League campaign that Fletcher had netted double figures, after tallies of 12 and 10 respectively in the previous two seasons at Wolves.
All four of Fletcher’s seasons in the English top flight have been relegation battles – at Burnley, Wolves and Sunderland.
But Di Canio believes the Scotland international can “enjoy” his football this season, with the Italian aiming to avoid a place in the dogfight at the bottom of the table.
“I am going to offer him the chance to feel important for all the right reasons and to enjoy his football,” said Di Canio.
“In the four seasons he has been in the Premier League, he has been important because his goals have been needed trying to keep a side in the division.
“For me, I want him to enjoy his football, not because his goals are needed to stop a side getting relegated – not that sort of pressure.
“But that he is scoring goals for a club that is pushing higher up the table and is in a much more optimistic, positive frame of mind.
“He’s 26 and is still very young and can have some good seasons ahead playing good football and enjoy it in a team which has a very good future.”