Premier League Career: Burnley (2009-2010), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2010-2012), Sunderland (2012-2016)
Steven Fletcher has often been a standout player in teams that have often struggled in the Premier League. The Scotsman has finished as top scorer for his clubs in relegation campaigns with both Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, his most impressive spell was arguably his four-year stint at Sunderland which came to an end at the start of 2016. Fletcher now plays in the SkyBet EFL Championship for Sheffield Wednesday.
Born in Shrewsbury, Fletcher spent much of his early childhood living in army bases in both Germany and England. His father was a soldier but died in 1997 after a battle with cancer. It was decided that he should relocate to Scotland with his Scottish mother and he was spotted by John Park, who was a youth coach at Hibernian. He joined the club’s youth network at the age of 13.
Fletcher made his club debut with the Edinburgh side in April 2004, coming on as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Kilmarnock. He scored 43 goals in 156 Scottish Premier League games for Hibs, netting his first professional hat-trick in a win over Gretna during the 2007-2008 campaign. He also won Young Player of the Year honours during his time at Easter Road two years in a row.
In January 2009, Hibs blocked a January move to Celtic which left the striker unamused. He argued: “For the development of my career, it is time to move to a bigger club.” In June 2009, he did leave the club – not for Celtic but for Premier League new boys Burnley in a club-record fee of £3 million. He had to wait until October for his first goal in England’s top-flight which came in a 2-1 victory at home to Birmingham City. He was voted Burnley’s Players’ Player of the Season and ended as the club’s top goalscorer, netting eight times. However, the Clarets’ lack of quality was evident after Owen Coyle vacated the managerial post for Bolton Wanderers and they were relegated from the Premier League in April 2010.
Soon after Burnley’s demise back to the Championship, Steven was transferred to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who forked out £6.5 million for his services. He made a dream start, scoring on his home debut on the opening weekend of the season as Wolves edged out Stoke City 2-1. Near the end of his first full season, he made himself a real fan favourite with the club after scoring twice in a priceless Black Country Derby triumph over West Bromwich Albion. They were vital goals as Wolves just about avoided relegation on a dramatic final day.
Personally, he improved even further in 2011-2012, scoring 12 goals but the club struggled once again and failed to win another league game after Mick McCarthy’s sacking in mid-February. With Wolves going down, Fletcher was a prized asset who had to be sold to reduce the wage bill and Martin O’Neill was very interested in bringing him to Sunderland.
Wolves drove a hard bargain and it took a transfer request from the player to eventually force the move through. It cost Sunderland £12 million but it looked money well-spent when he scored in his first four matches for the club, winning the Premier League Player of the Month award for September 2012 for his flying start in a Black Cats jersey.
He was handed the no.9 shirt for the 2013-2014 season and after an injury ruled him out of the previous season’s run-in, he returned instantly with a goal away at Crystal Palace, although it came in a losing cause. Fletcher had a knack for popping up with crucial goals throughout his career against local rivals. He did it for Sunderland against Newcastle United, scoring in home victories over the Magpies in October 2013 and 2015.
By now, injuries were restricting his goalscoring threat, as was the form of Jermain Defoe which was often keeping Fletcher out of the team. His goalscoring exploits were now being saved for international representation with Scotland. In 2015, he became the first player since Colin Stein against Cyprus in 1969 to score a hat-trick for The Tartan Army, seven years after making his international bow against Croatia.
After scoring 23 goals in 108 matches for Sunderland, he finished the 2015-2016 season with a loan spell in France with Marseille, scoring twice in matches against Toulouse and Troyes. He did start the 2016 Coupe de France final which ended for Marseille in a 4-2 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.
Sunderland released the Scotsman on his return to these shores and he joined Sheffield Wednesday on a four-year deal in July 2016, still remaining with the Owls today. The closest he has come to playing Premier League football again was the Championship play-offs of 2017 where Wednesday lost their semi-final to eventual winners Huddersfield Town on penalties.