The main talking point of the pre-Birmingham press conference for many will be the comments made about the absence of Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson, but for me, the news about Steven Fletcher was the thing to take away from what was said. He’s our top scorer with twelve goals this season, with Jacob Murphy the next best with four, and boy do we miss him.
Fletcher, 32, has missed our last seven league games, and in that time, we’ve won once, drawn twice and lost on four occasions. We’ve only managed to score four times over across that block of matches, and two of the four goals we scored came against Leeds United.
Garry Monk said the Scot had been training this week in today’s presser, and that he could feature against Birmingham, which is a massive boost. I’d be surprised if Fletcher started the game, and while there may be a temptation to throw him into the action from kick-off, I don’t think we need to, unless he is 100% ready to return.
We brought Connor Wickham to the club on loan, and while he’s not scored yet, it’s worth remembering that he’s building up his match fitness and sharpness. He’s more than capable of doing the business in front of goal for us, especially at this level, and I think it’s just a matter of when not if. Wickham played 170 minutes in four days for us, so, it was no surprise to see him start on the bench against Reading when you consider the minutes he had on the pitch at Palace before making the switch.
I think Wickham and Fletcher could go on to form a good partnership for us when they’re both fully fit and sharp. Both have good technical and physical abilities, and with those two at the top of the pitch in a 442 formation, we’d prove to be a match for most teams. I like the idea of playing 442, with Murphy and Adam Reach delivering crosses from the right and left respectively, but we need to get the balance right in the middle of the pitch. We also need to get Reach back playing as well.
Monk spoke of Fletcher’s return being a boost, and it is, not just in terms of what he brings on the pitch either. I think his presence will lift us, and give us some belief, and that’s been lacking recently. Fletcher always puts in a shift, puts his head where a lot of players won’t put their boot, and leads by example. We’ve been guilty of not defending from the front, and of lacking a bit of intelligence at the top of the pitch, but Fletcher’s return should see that change.
Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher, friends away from the pitch, often work well together when playing for us. And, while some have been keen to criticise Bannan of late, I think his performances will pick up when Fletcher returns to action. Fletcher, along Morgan Fox, another player on the comeback trail, has performed consistently well. And, having those two back, and the Massimo Luongo and Adam Reach available further down the line, should help to change our fortunes.