Duff – Fletcher was a class act

Turf return? Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher could make his first return to Turf Moor tomorrow
Turf return? Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher could make his first return to Turf Moor tomorrow

Michael Duff rates former teammate Steven Fletcher as one of the best he’s played alongside in over a decade with the club.

Sunderland striker Fletcher is in line for a first return to Turf Moor, four years after becoming Burnley’s record sale.

Pic by Avril Husband/Griffiths Photographers'Barclays Premier League Birmingham City v Burnley St Andrews 01-05-2010'Steven Fletcher

Pic by Avril Husband/Griffiths Photographers'Barclays Premier League Birmingham City v Burnley St Andrews 01-05-2010'Steven Fletcher

The 27-year-old arrived from Hibernian for a record £3m, and, after scoring 12 goals in 38 games as the Clarets were relegated from the Premier League, he joined Wolves for £6.5m.

Two years later he was transferred to Sunderland for almost double that, after netting 24 goals in 68 appearances for Mick McCarthy’s side.

Goals have been harder to come by with the Black Cats, with injuries restricting him to 53 appearances in two seasons, scoring 14 times, but Duff has no doubts about his quality after a season in which he was named players’ player of the year with Burnley.

Duff said: “We’re lucky in that we’ve had a few good strikers in my time, but he’s probably as good as anything I’ve played with - along with Jay (Rodriguez).

“They are complete all-rounders.

“You could see straight away Fletch had everything, similar to Jay, he could play on his own up front, he was good in the air, he could link play and he was a good finisher.

“He was technically very good, you could fire the ball into him and you knew it was going to stick.

“He could run in behind as well, or come short.

“It was no surprise Wolves paid all that money for him, and then Sunderland paid big money again.

“He’s had his injuries, but he scores goals when fit.”

It remains to be seen if Fletcher gets the chance to feature against his old club, having been left out of the 18 for the 2-2 draw at home to Spurs last Saturday for tactical reasons, having featured in all three of Sunderland’s opening three league games.

Connor Wickham played as a lone striker, but if Fletcher gets the nod, he will be up against a Burnley defence which has not conceded in over two and a half games in the Premier League.

Only Aston Villa, Southampton, Stoke City and Manchester United have conceded fewer goals, and Duff is pleased with how things are going: “It’s the way the team plays, the way we’re set up and organised.

“We all know our jobs, roles and responsibilities.

“We’re doing alright at the moment, but we have to keep doing what we’re doing.

“If there are games where you’re not quite at it at this level, you only have to look at teams like Arsenal last season, you can get hit five or six.

“But we’ve carried things on from last year.”

Two years ago, Burnley were the leakiest defence in the Championship after Eddie Howe’s return to Bournemouth after 10 games, before Sean Dyche helped make the Clarets the meanest in the division on the way to promotion.

Duff said: “I didn’t think we were bad players two years ago, and we’re not world beaters all of a sudden. We’ve just had a settled back four - we know each other and our jobs.”