Fletcher relishing O’Shea challenge

Published: Wednesday 12th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Scotland striker Steven Fletcher is relishing the opportunity to take on club-mate John O’Shea for real as the pair prepare to go head-to-head with precious Euro 2016 qualifying points at stake.

The 27-year-old frontman and the Republic of Ireland defender spend much of their time on the training pitch at Sunderland trying to get the better of each other, but they are in line to lock horns in earnest at Celtic Park on Friday evening as the two nations meet in Group D.

Fletcher heads into the game in good form after scoring twice in the Black Cats’ 3-1 Barclays Premier League victory at Crystal Palace last Monday night and playing his part in a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Everton on Sunday, and he has warned 33-year-old O’Shea he will be doing him few favours with national pride at stake.

He said: “I am looking forward to it, to be fair. I have been running rings around him in training, so if I could do it in the game, it would be fine.

“I was pleased with my performances with Scotland [last month]. I was unlucky not to get a goal, but I was happy the way I played, and hopefully I can keep my place for the next game.”

Fletcher and his compatriots have been looking forward to this week for some time with the Ireland game closely followed by an eagerly-anticipated friendly clash with the old enemy, England.

However in the short term, it is the business of points which matters most, and closing the gap on surprise joint-group leaders Poland and the Republic.

The pair have each collected seven points from their first three games with the Poles beating Germany in Warsaw before O’Shea marked his 100th senior appearance for his country with a last-gasp equaliser against the world champions in Gelsenkirchen last month.

Scotland are currently level on points with the Germans, three points back, and will be determined to rein in the Irish in their final competitive fixture of 2014.

They too have started positively and are convinced they can be involved in the mix for qualification when the campaign finally draws to a close.

Fletcher said: “It was a nightmare when I looked at the group to start with and they picked the first two [in the draw], and it was Germany and Poland.

“But we have shown – and so have Ireland – that we are more than capable of getting through as well. But I think the Ireland game is important for us.”

Manager Gordon Strachan has proved key in instilling that belief, but also a continuity which Fletcher feels has allowed him to build firm foundations from which to launch an assault on qualification.

He said: “Everything is looking really, really good. People are actually wanting to – I’m not saying people don’t want to go and play for their country, but it’s the same players, the same squad every time now.

“Normally, you would have about four or five players, it was new players coming in. But it seems to be the same squad every trip, which is good, it creates a team.”

Published: Wednesday 12th November 2014 by The News Editor

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