STEVEN FLETCHER is on the verge of joining his Sunderland team-mates on the training field, as the striker nears a first-team comeback.
As the Echo revealed last week, Fletcher has been doing double training sessions at the Academy of Light in his recovery from the ankle injury which has sidelined him since March.
But the former Wolves hitman has so far been limited to working with fitness coach Claudio Donatelli, rather than participating in Paolo Di Canio’s training programme.
Di Canio is ready to hand Fletcher the opportunity to join in with the first-team over the next week though, and the head coach believes that will hand the Scotland international fresh encouragement on the comeback trail.
“The lad is full of energy and enthusiasm,” Di Canio told the Echo.
“Every day he works with Claudio, he’s saying ‘I can score a goal, I can score a goal’.
“It’s typical of a hungry player, but that is positive. In the next few days, I’m going to gradually let him join the team for some part of the training session.
“That will give him an extra lift.
“He needs to be realistic and can’t think too much that he will join the team for all of it. But it’s a good step forward for him. He’s obviously a player who can do a good job for us.”
Di Canio is wary of putting a timescale of when he expects Fletcher to be back challenging for a first-team spot.
The 26-year-old’s fitness work has understandably been restricted during pre-season after undergoing surgery last April on the ankle ligaments damaged on international duty.
But Di Canio believes that the £12million striker has been able to work on other areas of his conditioning during his lay-off, which should speed up his return.
“We are very happy with Fletcher,” added Di Canio. “It depends what you mean when you ask if he is close to returning.
“But we think that he’s close to joining the team in training, although I don’t know when he can play.
“It’s obvious that he’s improved a lot in terms of strength and conditioning. He’s already had some sort of pre-season, although in a different manner because we have had to be careful with the problem in his ankle.”