Sunderland vs Stoke match report: Steven Fletcher back in style to sink Stoke

Sunderland 3 Stoke 1: Sunderland’s record signing returns from month in exile to score twice after laying on the opener

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The Independent Football

Four weeks ago Steven Fletcher’s future at Sunderland was in doubt. Gus Poyet took the Scotland striker to one side and told him he would not even be in the squad for that day’s game with Tottenham.

On Saturday the Sunderland manager got the reaction he was looking for. Fletcher, the club’s record signing at £12 million, did not sulk. Instead, recalled – this time it was the turn of Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson to be dropped – Fletcher scored twice and shone.

Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson do not spend many afternoons being bullied, but they could not cope with the physical presence of a centre- forward with a point to prove.Fletcher was the provider in the fifth minute, charging through the right- hand side of the Stoke penalty area before crossing into the six-yard box, where Connor Wickham headed home. It was Wickham’s first goal in the Premier League since April, when he could not stop scoring.

Stoke equalised quickly. Charlie Adam took a pass from Victor Moses and ran at John O’Shea before firing the ball through the Sunderland captain’s legs and into the far corner of Vito Mannone’s goal. Moses limped off shortly afterwards, a big loss for the visitors.

 

By the 23rd minute Sunderland had retaken a lead they would this time not surrender. A quick corner led to Jordi Gomez crossing from the left, and Fletcher showed desire, strength and power to head past Asmir Begovic.

The crucial third did not come until the closing stages. Stoke had huffed but Sunderland are a team with structure. With 11 minutes remaining Wickham, who played on the left side of midfield and enjoyed it according to his manager, charged diagonally across the field. He ended up in the Stoke penalty area and crossed; Rodwell missed his kick but the ball found the fired- up Fletcher, who crashed it into the roof of the net.

“I’m very pleased for Fletch,” said Poyet. “I know how hard it was for him a few weeks ago when I left him out of the squad. He was not happy. He took it professionally. He came back in training to his best. This week he was outstanding.

“It is a good feeling. I’m very pleased for the players. We knew inside the camp that we were a difficult team to play against, but without the win there are doubts and some nerves.

“It was very important for the players to win this game.”

Mark Hughes conceded that his team were poor. “It was not great from us today, to be perfectly honest,” the Stoke manager said. “We didn’t really defend correctly or with any kind of purpose in the opening period. As a consequence we gave up two really easy goals. We can do a lot better.

“Sunderland won the game quite comfortably. They had three strikes on goal and scored three goals, but we didn’t create enough ourselves.”

Line-ups:

Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Jones, Vergini, O’Shea, Aanholt; Cattermole; Buckley (Johnson, 60), Larsson (Rodwell, 71), Gomez (Bridcutt, 71), Wickham; Fletcher.

Stoke (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Muniesa; N’Zonzi, Whelan (Bojan, 68); Moses (Assaidi, 18), Adam, Arnautovic; Crouch (Walters, 78).

Referee: Neil Swarbrick.

Man of the match: Fletcher (Sunderland)

Match rating: 5/10

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