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Fletcher Must Rise To The Challenge

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Steven Fletcher has to begin producing his very best performance level after failing to even make the bench against Spurs on Saturday, as competition for a starting spot in the forward line goes up another notch.

Fletcher stoops to head towards goal against Germany
Fletcher stoops to head towards goal against Germany
Alexander Hassenstein

Gus Poyet has thrown down the gauntlet to striker Steven Fletcher by leaving him out of the squad altogether for Saturday's two-all draw with Tottenham Hotspur and it's a challenge he should relish rather than retreating from it.

In all previous games this season, it was Fletcher entrusted with leading the line, while Connor Wickham filled in on the left-hand side where Fabio Borini could be found most often last season.

However, with the recent signings of Will Buckley and Ricky Alvarez creating many more options in the wide areas, it was only going to be a matter of time before Wickham was competing for the out-and-out striker role. And, due to Fletcher's poor showings so far this term, the younger forward was picked upfront ahead of his more experienced colleague last weekend.

Not only did the Scottish international drop out of the first eleven, he also found himself without a spot on the bench to most observers' surprise.

It was a shock omission from the match-day squad for Fletcher, as he'd shown up particularly well as a second-half substitute for Scotland away to Germany in a European Championship qualifier only a few days prior. His performance, which included the skilful assist which led his nation's stunning equaliser during the agonising 2-1 defeat against the world champions, suggested an upturn in fortunes was right around the corner for the former Burnley and Wolves man.

Alas, it was not to be after he was left out in the cold unexpectedly by club boss Poyet and now has a tough task on his hands to reclaim his place.

Poyet said of the dilemma facing him:

"I know Fletch, he knows me. The situation is clear. We need to have that goal.

"I think Connor was one of, if not the best, player on Saturday.

"He was very good holding the ball up - he was strong, good technically.

"But even if Connor played very, very well and deserves to play next week for sure, we need goals from the strikers. That’s the challenge for them - no doubt."

It's abundantly clear that the manager simply expects his strikers to score goals - that is their primary objective and whoever sets off on a run will be the one who eventually prospers in Poyet's side.

Fletcher could argue that service to him hasn't always been up to scratch, but now is not the time for excuses. He must do all he can to make an impression on Poyet and put his team-mates under the utmost pressure.

With Wickham appearing likely to carry the load again at Turf Moor this coming Saturday, it remains to be seen what response the 27-year-old can muster.

His first campaign on Wearside was fruitful until an ankle injury suffered while on international duty in March 2013 put him out of action for the remainder of that season.

Since then, he hasn't looked quite the same player as the one who arrived for an initial £12m fee just over two years ago. Amidst a loss of form on the field and some unsavoury controversy off it, the Scot has struggled to recapture the barnstorming displays which characterised his opening seven months at the Stadium of Light.

He must see this latest setback in a positive light and come out fighting for his place, as he has so much to offer on the evidence of his promising beginning with the club. A resumption of that kind of form, should he be granted another opportunity, would leave Poyet no choice but to keep Fletcher in the line-up.

He's done it before at Burnley, Wolves and Sunderland in the Premier League, so why can't he do it again when entering what should be the prime of his career?