Ashley Fletcher says he’s up for the challenge to keep Sunderland in the Championship

Sunderland debutant Ashley Fletcher takes on Ipswich on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland debutant Ashley Fletcher takes on Ipswich on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid
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Ashley Fletcher has no regrets over his deadline day move despite seeing his new team’s chronic fragility at first hand.

Fletcher arrived at Sunderland on a frantic Wednesday night scramble for signings and impressed in the early stages of his full debut against Ipswich on Saturday.

His new team slipped to a 2-0 defeat, however, falling further into the Championship relegation mire.

The 22-year-old Middlesbrough frontman will be given the daunting task of leading the line, but it is one he is relishing.

Against Ipswich, he was alongside teenager Joel Asoro, with on-loan Liverpool debutant Ovie Ejaria in behind.

Fletcher said: “They’re (Asoro and Ejaria) 19 or 20 years old, so, although it sounds strange, I was the oldest up front.

“I’m only 22, so that was a bit of a weird situation for me.

“I know myself I need to step up, and I need to be getting in the right positions and scoring goals for Sunderland.

“I knew coming into this club that it was a massive club.

“Obviously, it’s lost its way in the last year or so, but it was only last year when I was on the bench here for West Ham playing against Sunderland.

“Sunderland looked a good team on that day, so for me to be playing for this club is an honour really.

“It comes down to confidence.

“In the second half, it was a lot harder because they were putting men behind the ball and they didn’t need to attack.

“I thought we kept the ball in the second half, but couldn’t really get much joy in between the spaces. Again, we still had chances though.

“There was a penalty shout and Kaz (LuaLua) and George (Honeyman) both had a couple of decent efforts.

“It’s just one of those things, when you’re down the bottom, things don’t go for you. We just need to get that first win.”

On his switch up the A19 from Boro for the rest of the season, the striker added: “It wasn’t a tough decision to come here.

“For me personally, I just want to play football.

“I knew that there were quite a few ahead of me in the pecking order at Middlesbrough, and I knew that coming here would get me games.

“Sunderland is a massive football club, and we don’t really deserve to be where we are. My aim is to come here, play as many games as I can, and help the team avoid relegation.”

Fletcher admits that the second-bottom Black Cats’ lack of confidence was on show in the loss to Ipswich, but he but remains upbeat ahead of the last 16 games of the season.

He said: “You can probably see a little bit [confidence is lacking]. Our heads probably went down a little bit after the first goal.

“We then said, ‘Let’s get to half-time without conceding again’, but then there was another sucker-punch with the unfortunate freak of an own goal and we go in 2-0 down, totally against the run of play.

“But the manager said at half-time that the next goal was important in the game, and to make sure that we didn’t concede another.

“In some ways, we did that, although we obviously couldn’t get a goal ourselves.

“I think there are positives to take out of the game, especially in the first 40 minutes. But we come away just so disappointed.”