No Sunderland supporter needs to have it spelled out to them, and there’s no beating around the issue - Ashley Fletcher simply has not been good enough since arriving at the club, nor does he look remotely motivated to succeed here, and our inability to attract a decent striker to Wearside in January is likely to be one of several nails in our severely battered and poorly-constructed coffin.
Fletcher was a target briefly visited earlier on in the window but nothing came of it until deadline day, when our desperate scramble to find a replacement for James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban led to us settling on the only man seemingly available.
Earlier in the day, though, it had looked likely that Sunderland would sign another man - Scottish forward Oliver McBurnie. His parent club, Swansea, were keen to let him leave on loan in a bid to gain vital first-team experience elsewhere and that alerted a number of Championship clubs to his availability.
As the hours ticked by it seemed less and less likely that Chris Coleman would attract the youngster to the Stadium of Light and, to the horror of many, he instead opted to move to fellow strugglers Barnsley, then managed by Paul Heckingbottom.
If ever there was an indicator for how quickly our club has fallen in such a short space of time it was this. Despite the Premier League facilities and calibre of manager, a young player felt it was better for his development if he opted for Yorkshire over Wearside for the remainder of the season - and Sunderland walked away with their tails firmly tucked between their legs, continuing the desperate search for a goalscorer capable of firing them to safety.
The paths which both young men have taken since that day in January couldn’t have been any more different - with Sunderland quite clearly paying the price for not managing to nail down McBurnie when they had the opportunity to do so.
The striker’s form has been so impressive at Oakwell that he’s earned himself his first call-up to the Scotland senior squad for Alex McLeish’s first game in charge, whilst Fletcher’s time thus far since arriving from Middlesbrough cannot be classed as anything other than a total disaster for both the player and the club.
Former Bradford man McBurnie has notched an impressive tally of six goals in seven starts for his new club and, since his inclusion, the Tykes have undoubtedly benefitted from his inclusion.
Though they failed to defeat Norwich yesterday evening - despite a first-half McBurnie goal looking like the clincher before a late strike from Josh Murphy levelled up proceedings - it looks likely that Barnsley might stay up on the back of the Scotsman’s goals, whilst Sunderland continue to struggle in front of goal despite the persistance of Chris Coleman to play Fletcher as his lone striker up top.
The statistics on how both men are faring don’t lie either, and perhaps tell an even harsher tale of just how different things might have been had Sunderland been able to convince McBurnie to join the club until the summer.
It’s hard to analyse statistics sometimes and comparing a completely out-of-sorts striker to one of the most in-form players in the league seems a bit harsh, but some of the individual facts on how Fletcher has been performing tell their own story.
Ignoring the fact that Fletcher has yet to score, I’d suggest this tells us that the 22-year old is completely unsuited to playing a lone role up top.
Despite standing at around 6”1, Fletcher struggles to hold up the ball and bring others into play - as shown by the fact he makes, on average, 4.9 ‘bad controls’ per game.
It’s interesting to note, however, that aside from that particular statistic there isn’t a great deal of difference between the play of McBurnie and Fletcher except for the most important one which is, of course, goals scored.
Is it a case that the service is so unbelievably poor that he struggles to convert, or is it a mix of that and the fact that when chances do present themselves to him, he just hasn’t got the confidence or ability to put them away?
What is clear is that, whilst we mightn’t have known it at the time, the decision made by Oliver McBurnie to choose Barnsley over Sunderland in January might have been a defining moment in both of our seasons.
The time is now for Fletcher to step it up - he has to put more effort in on Saturday against Preston, such is the dependence upon him to produce goals. The Sunderland manager has shown immense faith in him over the course of the time he’s spent with the club so far and he just hasn’t lived up to expectations - but with our very future as a Championship club hanging in the balance, he has to start emulating the form of his Barnsley counterpart McBurnie if he’s going to not only revitalise his own career but also help Sunderland to cling onto their status as a Championship club in the process.