Millwall v Sheffield Wednesday: Owls will keep pace with the pack this time, says rejuvenated Steven Fletcher

Confident: Steven Fletcher.Confident: Steven Fletcher.
Confident: Steven Fletcher.
It may be 10 years since Steven Fletcher swapped his native Scotland for England but he finally feels he has found a home in Sheffield Wednesday.

The 32-year-old striker moved south in 2009 – after honing his skills at Hibernian – taking in big-money moves to Burnley, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sunderland and even a loan spell in the south of France with Marseille.

While the Owls’ Middlewood Road training ground – yesterday home to drizzle and grey skies – is a million miles away from the Mediterranean sunshine, Fletcher is happy with life.

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He is finally injury-free and Fletcher – freely admitting a knee injury “hampered” him in his first two seasons at Hillsborough, after joining in 2016 – has helped the Owls top the Championship table after the opening fortnight of the campaign.

“I am feeling good, we got a good pre-season under our belts,” said Fletcher, starting his fourth season at Hillsborough.

“I am settled in Sheffield, the family is settled, but it’s gone quite quick actually. It doesn’t feel like I have been here that long.

“But it’s been good and I am enjoying it. I have settled into living in Sheffield.”

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So much so, that Fletcher – in the final season of a four-year deal – would relish the chance to finish his career in South Yorkshire.

“I would love to stay here as long as I can, I am really enjoying it. The family is settled, the kids go to school in Sheffield.

“I have never been at a club, with my family, where I really felt settled. This is the first time.

“I am settled here, but I only have a year left (on contract).”

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Some pundits tipped the Owls to struggle this season – after manager Steve Bruce walked out in pre-season to join Newcastle United – but caretaker Lee Bullen has stepped in to oversee opening wins over Reading and Barnsley.

Fletcher opened his goals account in the 2-0 win over the Tykes, and, in a squad rich with striker options, will take some dislodging if he continues his early-season form.

The striker admits a traditional English pre-season under Bruce and Bullen – as opposed to less taxing summers under European coaches in Carlos Carvalhal and Jos Luhukay – has got the Owls in peak condition.

“I am injury-free,” he said. “I have had my knee problem fixed, which hampered me in my first two years here. That didn’t help. But I am now pain-free, injury-free. The pre-season was tough, but it’s put me in good stead for this season.

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“In my time here, I have had a lot of European managers, they do (pre-season) a bit different to what English managers do.

“We had a typical English pre-season this year, so it was tough.”

The transition from Bruce to Bullen appears to have been seamless, although the former’s exit hardly came as a surprise to the Wednesday players.

“I think we knew it was inevitable it was going to happen,” said Fletcher, a free transfer signing from Sunderland. “The rumours had been going on for a while.

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“It took a little while for it to actually happen, but I think we got our heads round it.

“The boys did well just to keep our heads down and work hard through pre-season. We had a job to do, despite the speculation about the manager, we needed to get fit and ready for the season. The boys have done that very well.”

Fletcher is no stranger to former defender Bullen, the pair actually played against each other in Scotland.

“Bully was at Dunfermline,” he recalled. “I came on as a young boy, about 17 or 18, he won’t like the result because I came on and changed the game. We ended up beating them.”

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Fletcher added: “Bully is in charge now, and he’s doing a great job. He has kept a lot of what Bruce did beforehand, but tweaked the things he wanted to. He is his own man. He has kept a lot of stuff which worked well for us when Bruce was in charge. There’s no point in changing if it’s working well.

“He has been here a long time, and stepped in (as caretaker boss) a few times. Now, he is probably thinking there is no better time for him to step into management.

“He has started very well, but it’s up to the chairman. It’s not up to me to say ‘yeah, I want him as manager’.”

With the arrival of wingers Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy, the Owls have cured the lack of pace in their forward line.

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No-one is happier about that, than Fletcher, a traditional British centre-forward, who often cut an isolated figure in attack last season.

He said: “We have managed to bring in a few boys in defence, and that’s good.

“But I always thought we needed a bit of pace up front. I am not saying I am the slowest guy on the pitch, but I am not the quickest.

“So, to have a bit of pace around me – or the other lads up front – it’s always nice if you do get a header, you don’t have to chase your own flick-on.

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“I think we needed pace on the wings, just to create chances, and take the pressure off the main striker. The ball is not just being played up to them all the time, you have got different passes to make, not just coming straight to the No 9.

“With their pace and directness, we can exploit teams. They are very fast players, I have seen that. I can’t keep up with them.”

So what is a realistic target for Wednesday this season?

“Everyone is expecting us to be up there,” replied Fletcher, after play-off appearances in 2016 and 2017.

“We have ambitions, we have got to be thinking we can push itno the top half of the table. We have to think that or there’s no point in going out every week.

“But we have got to keep our heads down, and, hopefully, people don’t take notice of us, and we creep our way up the table.”