Steven Fletcher worth every penny, says Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill

 

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill is hoping £12million striker Steven Fletcher will prove a bargain buy after seeing him plunder his third goal in two games.

The 25-year-old Scot fired the Black Cats ahead against Liverpool on Saturday evening to pay off another instalment of the fee the Wearsiders handed over to Wolves to secure his services during the summer, and it took a late Luis Suarez equaliser to claim a 1-1 draw.

The Molineux club had earlier rejected a series of offers as their valuation of Fletcher caused raised eyebrows, but his contribution to date - he also scored twice at Swansea a fortnight ago on his Barclays Premier League debut for Sunderland - has convinced the red and white faithful that they finally have a replacement for prolific former frontman Darren Bent.

O'Neill said: "So far, he has been absolutely terrific, I am just delighted with him. I just couldn't be more pleased.

"All sorts of figures seem to be bandied around - I heard today we paid £14million for him - it was £12million, but he seems to be worth every single penny of it.

"I am just pleased for him. It's nice for the crowd to take to him at this minute - that will give him a boost of confidence as much as anything else, but goals, of course, are very pleasing."

Fletcher's 29th-minute strike came somewhat against the run of play as he found half a yard of space inside the box to turn Craig Gardner's fine right-wing cross past keeper Pepe Reina.

The visitors, who had arrived on Wearside at the end of a week during which the Hillsborough disaster has been to the forefront had started in promising fashion with 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling particularly prominent.

However, the goal came as something of a setback and having collected one of the first nine points previously on offer this season, their confidence seemed briefly to ebb away.

But under-pressure manager Brendan Rodgers did his job a half-time and the Reds emerged in determined style once again.

They might have been back on level terms on several occasions before they did finally find a way past keeper Simon Mignolet - Glen Johnson smashed a long-range effort against the crossbar and Steven Gerrard clipped the outside of a post with a side-footed effort - but they had to wait until 19 minutes from time to haul themselves back into the game.

Sunderland debutant Danny Rose had given as good as he got against Sterling, but with the left-back hampered by a groin injury, the teenager, who was called into the senior England squad last week, skipped past him to fire in a cross which substitute Titus Bramble could only stab away.

The ball fell perfectly for Suarez, who instinctively thumped it past Mignolet to level.

Rose was understandably disappointed to have been unable to prevent the equaliser, but took comfort from O'Neill's favourable comments after the game.

The defender, on a season-long loan deal from Tottenham, said: "I'm glad he has given me praise because I am a bit disappointed with the goal, which was my fault.

"Me and Sterling had a good battle throughout the game and it just shows at this level, you let your opponent get the better of you just once and he puts it into the box, and that's where Liverpool scored.

"It's definitely mixed emotions from the game, but it's definitely a good point that we earned."

Rodgers was delighted with the resilience of his players and particularly pleased with Suarez, whose important to the club in the wake of Andy Carroll's departure and their failure to replace him, is paramount.

He said: "He's been brilliant for me, I have got to say, his movement and cleverness.

"We played him just around the corner - we changed his position slightly for the first hour or so so he could come in from the left side and play in that space between the centre-half and the full-back, and I thought he did it well.

"We just tried to get him involved that wee bit more in that final 30 minutes.

"Across the board, we looked a real threat. Some of our passing and tempo in our game was good, the speed of our passing was good.

"Luis, along with a lot of the other guys, was exceptional."

O'Neill, however, was left counting the cost of a hard-fought contest as he awaited news on Rose and hamstring victim Carlos Cuellar.

PA

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