DICK ADVOCAAT hopes Steven Fletcher can end his drought against Crystal Palace – six months after his last Premier League goal came at Selhurst Park.
Striker Fletcher played a key role in Sunderland’s fifth successive derby victory over Newcastle United last weekend, with the Scot winning the header in the build-up to Jermain Defoe’s stunning strike, plus holding the ball up with aplomb.
The way the three up front worked made it so easy for the midfield and the restDick Advocaat
But the Scot – who netted a hat-trick for his country against Gibraltor last week – spurned a couple of half-chances in the second half to kill off Newcastle’s resistance and end his wait for a Sunderland goal.
Fletcher hasn’t found the net since he scored a brace in November’s win at Palace, with this Saturday’s visit of the Eagles providing another crucial encounter in Sunderland’s bid to beat off the threat of relegation.
Sunderland boss Advocaat said: “Fletcher played so excellent against Newcastle, had some possibilities, but unfortunately could not score.
“Hopefully he can do that this weekend.”
Fletcher was not alone in shining in Sunderland’s front three against Newcastle, with Connor Wickham and Defoe buzzing around the former Wolves man and constantly pressurising the Magpies defence.
Advocaat had deployed all three in his opening game at West Ham a fortnight earlier, but he successfully tweaked the system, by moving Defoe and Wickham into wider roles, rather than using the latter in the hole behind the strikers.
“The way the three up front worked made it so easy for the midfield and the rest,” said Advocaat.
“Jermain is a special player and the way he scored the goal was really brilliant.
“But that’s what he gets paid for!”
Sunderland have a chance to record back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time this season against a rejuvenated Palace side, who now boast the best away record outside the top seven.
It would be a timely boost for the Black Cats, with Advocaat’s men still only three points clear of danger after bottom three Burnley, QPR and Leicester all added to their tallies over the weekend.
QPR have the opportunity to further narrow the gap tonight, when they face a crunch trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa, who are now a point behind Sunderland.
“We needed that win (against Newcastle) because you saw the other results on Saturday,” added Advocaat.
“It gives us the confidence.
“But don’t think we’re already there. We’ve just started.”