A REFRESHED Steven Fletcher believes he is reaping the rewards from his first pre-season campaign since 2011.
Fletcher netted a brace in Sunderland’s first friendly of the summer on Saturday, as the Black Cats coasted to a 5-1 victory over non-league Darlington 1883.
It was a welcome contribution from the Scotland striker, who endured a miserable campaign last year with two ankle injuries and a shoulder problem affecting both his form and goal output.
Fletcher believes he ultimately paid the price for spending all of last summer recovering from the ankle injury sustained at the end of the previous season on international duty.
The 27-year-old had no time off and was unable to participate in any of Sunderland’s pre-season fixtures, as was the case during the summer of 2012 when he was still a Wolves player, before his £12million move to the Stadium of Light.
But, after returning to training a week ahead of schedule earlier this month, Fletcher is eager to rediscover the predatory instincts he showed during his maiden campaign with Sunderland.
Fletcher told the Echo: “I’ve not had a pre-season for two or three years, but this one has been going well so far.
“Touch-wood, it stays the way it is.
“The boys went away straight away, but I stayed on at the end of the season for a few days with the physios.
“Then I came back a week earlier. I was ticking over on my own when I went away, too.
“I only had a quiet holiday and carried on working out over there.
“Even last summer, I didn’t get any time off because I was in rehabing from the season before.
“It just felt like it was so long. I got to Christmas and it felt like the longest season of my life.
“So it’s been good to get that break and I feel refreshed coming back.”
Fletcher tucked away two tap-ins during the first half at Bishop Auckland’s Heritage Park and the former Burnley and Hibs frontman could have had a hat-trick before Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet changed the entire XI at the interval.
Despite Sunderland’s victory over humble opposition, Fletcher admits it was still a boost to find the net for the first time since December.
He added: “I haven’t scored for a while, it felt a bit weird scoring.
“I was going to back-heel the first, but I thought I better not!
“But it’s good to get off the mark. I know it’s only a friendly, but all goals are good, to be honest.
“Obviously, goals give players a lot of confidence.
“Hopefully we can get a few more before the season starts.
“Minutes on the pitch are most important thing. Training is all well and good, but when you get out there, it’s a different story.”