Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Time's Running out for Striker and Wearsiders as Panic Grows; THE AGENDA: How Is Middlesbrough Striker's Loan Move to the Black Cats Working out? A Loan Stint at Sunderland Was Meant to Help Ashley Fletcher Rediscover His Confidence - but Inspiration Is a Commodity in Desperately Short Supply on Wearside, Writes Stuart Rayner

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Time's Running out for Striker and Wearsiders as Panic Grows; THE AGENDA: How Is Middlesbrough Striker's Loan Move to the Black Cats Working out? A Loan Stint at Sunderland Was Meant to Help Ashley Fletcher Rediscover His Confidence - but Inspiration Is a Commodity in Desperately Short Supply on Wearside, Writes Stuart Rayner

Article excerpt

MIDDLESBROUGH loaned Ashley Fletcher to Sunderland to find a bit of confidence. So far, he is still looking. Confidence is such a crucial ingredient for professional sportsmen, particularly goalscorers. Take it away and even the talented can suddenly look ordinary.

Manager Chris Coleman made it abundantly clear throughout December and January - joining the relegation-threatened Black Cats was never going to be a soft option.

It is a difficult club to play for.

Relegated from last season's Premier League, they are once again scrapping amongst the dead men, this time in the Championship. Their top-scorer in 2018 is own goals.

Despite what the 'attendances' claim, the ground is around a thirdfull most days, and generally sparser still at the end of matches.

Debts are high, disenchantment higher still - not just on terraces but in the dressing room, where one or two seem to be going through the motions.

Others clearly want to give their all but are struggling in an atmosphere of despair and defeatism. It even extends to away matches, despite continually impressive followings.

Welcome aboard, Ashley.

It might not be so bad had Fletcher come in as one of a stable of strikers to share the burden but since he arrived he has been asked to lead the line.

He will not be able to on Saturday, because Sunderland's opponents are his parent club. It will be a bit of respite for him after a difficult start.

Having been out in the cold for so long at the Riverside, it was always going to be asking a lot for Fletcher to hit the ground running.

He actually started his debut very well, holding the ball up impressively and bringing others into play in a vibrant first half-hour at home to Ipswich Town. But soon the old problems came tumbling down.

Then Ipswich's Joe Garner took the ball with his back to goal and, without enough pressure from Billy Jones, proceeded to turn and score. By half-time it was two.

Sunderland were never in the game again and that meant Fletcher was not either.

Now, when the ball falls at his feet in a promising position the doubts creep in. …

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