Middlesbrough’s Ashley Fletcher recently expressed his desire to return to Middlesbrough after his loan spell to Sunderland. The forward believes his time in Teesside is not over, and that he has a future at the club.
But, for various reasons, I don’t think we’ll see Fletcher in a Middlesbrough shirt again. Here are three reasons why the forward’s career looks better away from Boro.
Increased competition in forward areas has been key in Fletcher’s departure from the club. The deadline day move to Sunderland was no surprise, given that Patrick Bamford, Rudy Gestede and Britt Assombalonga are all vying for the striker position.
Assombalonga is the club’s top scorer with 12 goals in 24 games, and sits third in the Championship’s top scorers’ charts. He is irreplaceable in the Boro side, and has been key in getting Middlesbrough to the league position they currently occupy.
Rudy Gestede is strong and physical and his ability in the air is second to none. Many would say that Gestede epitomises Tony Pulis’ style of play, and his experience in this division puts him ahead of Fletcher in the pecking order.
Finally, Patrick Bamford offers something different to the other strikers. His versatility allows him to play as a number 10 or even on the left-wing, and was crucial in Boro’s play-off push in 2015.
With Martin Braithwaite’s loan move to Bordeaux, Fletcher may have felt that his playing time could increase. But with competition already fierce, a deadline day move was always the best option.
Lack of experience in the division
Fletcher enjoyed a successful spell at Barnsley in League One in 2016, where he helped the Tykes secure promotion and win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. He scored the opening goal in the Play-off final after just one minute against Millwall, as well as scoring in the JPT final against Oxford United.
As a Manchester United loanee, Fletcher’s name was known. As a youngster coming through the ranks at United, a certain expectation is attached. The famous class of 92′ set the benchmark and the likes of Marcus Rashford and Michael Keane spring to mind for recent graduates.
Fletcher’s reputation and his performances in League One with Barnsley ultimately led him to sign for Premier League side West Ham United. But after 16 games without a goal, a £6.5 million move to Middlesbrough seemed questionable.
He had experienced the Premier League and failed to make an impact, and his purple patch at Barnsley had only come over the period of six months. The lack of Championship experience never looked promising for all parties, and he has never settled in this division as a result.
I believe a step down back into League One would have been more beneficial, or even a reunion with Barnsley. This would’ve brought his confidence up massively, and could’ve helped him to progress at Boro after the loan spell.
Not being the main man
At Barnsley, Fletcher was the lone front man. He led the line, held up the ball and was the star of the show. He thrived off this pressure, and performed excellently in his time at the club.
But at West Ham, despite playing 16 times in the Premier League, he found himself behind the likes of Andre Ayew, Andy Carroll and even Jonathan Calleri. The lack of game time meant that he never had the chance to impress.
Equally, Middlesbrough’s competitiveness meant that when Fletcher did start a Championship game, he was often paired with a strike partner. This was often Braithwaite, Bamford or Assombalonga.
With Sunderland’s struggles in the league, sitting second-bottom of the table, and the recent exit of striker Lewis Grabban, Sunderland were in the market for a forward in the January window. With Fletcher now being the main man again, I believe he will start to show exactly what he showed at Barnsley.
A run of games will do Fletcher good, a loan move away from Boro is exactly what he needs, and I believe Middlesbrough and Fletcher should part company on the back of this after a torrid time since signing in the summer.