Star striker on Dundee United’s new-found resolve: 'Even my running stats were up!'

Now 35, Steven Fletcher has been around the block a few times. He has endured brickbats. He has fallen out with managers and made up with managers during a near twenty-year career.

Steven Fletcher was Dundee United's star man in Wednesday's Premier Sports Cup win over Livingston  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Steven Fletcher was Dundee United's star man in Wednesday's Premier Sports Cup win over Livingston (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

The striker has known how it feels to be on the wrong end of multi-goal defeats even if Sunday’s 9-0 reversal against Celtic was, he admits, a new extreme. “Eight (was the worst) I think, never nine!” he said.

Fletcher played the whole 90 minutes when Sunderland were beaten 8-0 by Southampton in October 2014. He was at least spared the brunt of the humiliation on Sunday as United’s afternoon completely unravelled against Celtic.

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“When I came off at the weekend we were five or six down it was hard to watch the rest of that game,” he said. “We don't want that to happen again.”

United have already begun to make amends. Caretaker manager Liam Fox’s side reached the last eight of the Premier Sports Cup with Wednesday night’s relatively comfortable victory at Livingston, where they had not won since 2005.

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Fletcher acknowledges it came too late to save manager Jack Ross, who was sacked after just seven games in charge. “It’s part and parcel of football and Jack would admit that himself,” said Fletcher. “But it’s not nice at all.”

United now travel to Motherwell’s for tomorrow’s league fixture against the in-form Fir Park side feeling slightly better about themselves.

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Nevertheless, it is never nice to hear one’s character called into question. Fletcher and his teammates have been left feeling bruised by the charge of deserters that has been laid at their door. He might have heard it all before – those Sunderland fans of eight years ago are unlikely to have been any more equable than their United counterparts. But being accused of surrendering still stings.

“We’re all professionals,” said Fletcher. “When people question your character and how you are as people never mind players, it’s not nice to hear. Nobody wants to hear that about themselves.

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“We had to show togetherness and the fact that we are a good team. We show it every day in training, which is the most frustrating thing. You come away (from a defeat) and speak to the family and they ask what’s going on? But I see it every day in training. There’s quality there. It shouldn’t take the manager losing his job for us to show a reaction but it has. Now we have to carry that on.

“It’s down to us as players to take that on the chin and put it right for the fans and for ourselves. It was about rolling up our sleeves and working hard and putting in the extra miles. I think even my running stats were up!”

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Fletcher isn’t naive enough to believe that everything is now back to normal. He knows all is not yet forgiven. Livingston was a start, nothing more. The look on his son’s face when he returned home on Sunday still haunts him.

“I remember pulling up in my car and seeing my son looking out the window,” he recalled. “And he was looking at me as if to ask, ‘did that really happen?’ I had to shake my head to say yes. We’re human beings as well so it was a tough few days.”

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