STEVEN FLETCHER says fighting back from injury ahead of schedule has paid off after experiencing “the highlight” of his Sunderland career in the Wear-Tyne derby.
Last season’s top scorer Fletcher netted the opener in yesterday’s 2-1 victory over the Magpies, as the Black Cats ended a run of six straight defeats by recording their first Premier League win of the season to move off the basement.
The Scotland striker missed April’s 3-0 win at St James’s Park with an ankle injury and was expected to be absent again against Newcastle when he suffered a dislocated shoulder at West Brom last month.
But Fletcher shrugged off the initial estimate of a six week lay-off to return to the fold early at Swansea nine days ago and scored his second of the season yesterday, before substitute Fabio Borini’s late winner finally got Sunderland’s campaign up and running.
Fletcher told the Echo: “That was the best feeling I’ve had here personally.
“I missed the 3-0 game last year, so that was the highlight of my Sunderland career so far.
“I got back early from my ankle and got back early from my shoulder so it’s been a good recovery.
“It was a great way to win the game, especially for Fab whose been a bit frustrated with not playing games.
“For him to come on and score that goal was fantastic. It was great celebrations after it.
“The dressing room was bouncing afterwards. The music was on and it’s been a while since that was the case.
“We knew we had to get in their faces straight from the start and we managed to do that.
“We got an early goal and I was absolutely delighted with it.
“It’s been a while for me and to score against Newcastle was a great feeling.”
Fletcher says Sunderland’s players were well aware of their responsibility towards supporters ahead of the derby, particularly after the 4-0 defeat at Swansea had thrust the Black Cats firmly into the doldrums.
But the £12million striker believes Sunderland showed their character, especially in the second half when Mathieu Debuchy had cancelled out Fletcher’s opener and Gus Poyet’s side were beginning to tire.
“We were focused when Newcastle equalised,” added Fletcher.
“The gaffer spoke to us about if we went 1-0 down or if they came back. He said we needed to stay focused. We managed to do that and got the win.
“We’re not daft, we know what this game means to the fans and everyone around the place.
“We knew we needed to win this one. We get told every day, some fans tell us that we just need to win this one and that’s it.
“The fans have not had a lot to cheer about, but I think it showed from our celebrations in the first five minutes how much we wanted to win the game.
“We managed to go on and do that. They’ve stuck by us and hopefully we’ve repaid them.”