Sunderland boss looks to play to Ashley Fletcher’s strengths

Ashley Fletcher
Ashley Fletcher

Chris Coleman has defended Ashley Fletcher and said his Sunderland team-mates must do more to play to his strengths.

Coleman and his Sunderland side were criticised for their approach in the second half at Millwall, dropping deep and allowing the hosts to take the initiative.

Fletcher was left badly isolated up front, with Coleman introducing Joel Asoro to try and support him and apply more pressure on the Millwall defence.

Coleman admitted he had been frustrated on the touchline and said the 22-year-old can have a real impact if used the right way.

He said: “The one criticism I had on Saturday was that in the second half we didn’t attack enough, we were wishing our lives away, and you can’t do that for 45 minutes – you can do it for the last five minutes or 10 minutes when you are getting a bit nervous, but 45 minutes is a long, long, time.

“You have to go and offer something offensive and we didn’t do that in the second half.

“I get why the guys were holding on at 1-0, the three points were precious, but you’re not going to be able to do that for 45 minutes.

“I think people look at Fletcher, 6ft 4, and they expect him to be winning aerial duels.

“He will get better at that when he’s more experienced, and he knows he has to get better at using his body, he does. But he has a super attitude, because he’s so big people might watch and think he’s lazy. He’s not, he is a bit naive. Steve Morison is a classic example [of what he needs], but he is a bit different to what we’ve got.

“We needed to bring someone in, he’s still inexperienced but he is a much better player when he gots good balls into his feet. Not fight balls, the second half at Millwall, it is all fight balls. Every time Jason gets it was going long, we didn’t play.

“You don’t want Callum McManaman and Aiden McGeady scrapping, you want them playing football. There’s times when you have to do that of course but not for 45 minutes. We need to use these players better and it is the same with Fletch, he’s good getting down the side of people and he can do something in the final third.

“He needs a goal for his confidence, and the chances he’s missed of course have knocked him. He’ll be all right, he wants to be here, he’s positive, great around the place. He’ll get better.”

Coleman is hoping that the imminent return of January signing Kazenga LuaLua will offer some much-needed experience and a different dimension in the final third.

He said: “Kaz is a typical example. Sometimes we’ll get in the last third and we’re reluctant, it has to be the perfect move. Kaz might just go ‘wallop’ from 25 yards, and even if the keeper makes a save it puts them on the back foot, it is something different.

“He did it for us at Bristol, even at Ipswich when the keeper makes a save and he made them sit a bit deeper. He trained today and hopefully he’ll be able to play some part tomorrow, perhaps off the bench.”