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Why Sunderland can’t persist with Ashley Fletcher – even after Joel Asoro’s injury

Ashley Fletcher.
Ashley Fletcher.
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Stephen Elliott believes Chris Coleman doesn’t have time to persist with struggling Ashley Fletcher – even with Sunderland’s goalscoring problems.

Middlesbrough loanee Fletcher arrived in January but is yet to score for the Black Cats, five points adrift of Championship safety.

Ex-Black Cat Elliott believes the striker is drained of confidence and isn’t doing enough to merit a place in the Sunderland side.

Coleman dropped Fletcher for the 2-0 home defeat to Preston North End and Elliott says the 22-year-old may actually benefit from a spell out the limelight.

Joel Asoro’s suspected concussion, picked up on international duty with Sweden Under-21s against Cyprus, may see a reprieve for Fletcher for Good Friday’s trip to Derby County with teenager Josh Maja the only other recognised striker. January signing Kazenga LuaLua, naturally a winger, is Coleman’s only other option.

Elliott believes it may prove too big a gamble to play the loan man given Fletcher’s ‘shattered’ confidence.

The former Sunderland striker said: “It is a sad situation and I feel sorry for him [Fletcher]. “He got a big money move to Middlesbrough and things obviously haven’t worked out there.

“If you are playing in a struggling team like Sunderland that is not scoring goals then, as a forward, you feel that extra bit of pressure because it is your job to score goals.

“It takes a lot to block that out and still play your game.

“The thing with Fletcher is although he hasn’t been scoring goals, for me, he hasn’t been doing the things a good forward should do, taking the ball and bringing other players in.

“He looks so low on confidence it is unbelievable. There are few other options, that is the problem.

“Do you play somebody out of position up front? It is hard to criticise Coleman hugely because it is difficult for him.”

Fletcher costs Middlesbrough £6.5m in the summer when Garry Monk signed him from West Ham United, but struggled to find goals and after Monk’s sacking, Tony Pulis agreed to let the player move up the A19.

Elliott added: “The manager bought Fletcher on against Preston and that was probably to try and give him some confidence but sometimes giving him a rest might give him more confidence.

“His price tag isn’t his fault but it’s probably in his head that he has to perform straight away and it didn’t happen for him and then he gets criticism.

“He obviously has some ability, there is a reason why clubs have paid big money for him, but we haven’t seen it at Sunderland yet, he has come here and it hasn’t worked out for him. For me, I wouldn’t be too pushed to be playing him.

“There is no time to mess around, you have got to play people that you think may do something.

“At the moment he looks a guy shattered of confidence and if I was manager I wouldn’t play him.”

Former favourite Elliott, who scored 22 goals in 81 appearances, has been impressed with teenage duo Maja and Asoro.

Elliott added: “They have a lot of potential – I would definitely keep hold of those two, especially if the club was to be relegated. They could be big, big players going forward.”