Ashley Fletcher is hoping to get his career back on track at Sunderland – but still believes his long-term future lies at Middlesbrough.
Fletcher joined the Championship strugglers in a late deadline day move and made his debut in the 2-0 home defeat to Ipswich on Saturday.
The 21-year-old was a key figure in Barnsley’s rise to the Championship, and featured heavily as Paul Heckingbottom’s side clintched promotion and won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
But since then, the former Manchester United academy product has struggled for game time, failing to establish himself at West Ham before moving to Middlesbrough.
“I haven’t really had the opportunities over the last couple of years,” he told the Evening Chronicle. “That’s not really through anyone’s fault at all, it’s just one of those things in football where you’re down the pecking order and it’s up to you to get your career back on track. That’s the way I’m approaching things.
“For me, it’s all about playing games. I just want to play and score goals, and hopefully I can do that with Sunderland.”
“The manager at Middlesbrough was very clear with me,” Fletcher admitted. “He said he wants me to go out and toughen up in a way. He wants to see me playing a run of games so he can get a better idea of what I can do.
“I need to get some good minutes, and I still believe I’ve got a future at Middlesbrough. It certainly wasn’t a case of the door being closed on me. But my sole focus at the moment is on Sunderland. This is my club for the rest of the season now, and I want to do everything I can to keep them up.
Fletcher joins a side sitting at the foot of the Championship and with only one win in five. But the striker admits the choice to test himself on Wearside wasn’t a decision he had to mull over.
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” he said. “For me personally, I just want to play football. I knew that there were quite a few ahead of me in the pecking order at Middlesbrough, and I knew that coming here would get me games.
“Sunderland is a massive football club, and we don’t really deserve to be where we are. My aim is to come here, play as many games as I can, and help the team avoid relegation.”