Return of Fletcher encouraging for Potters despite a disappointing draw against Cardiff
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Steven Fletcher of Stoke City and Curtis Nelson of Cardiff City compete for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Cardiff City at Bet365 Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Stoke City's home clash against Cardiff City on Saturday marked Steven Fletcher's first start in nine Championship games, he last made the starting 11 in a defeat to Fulham back in August.

Back with a bang

The Scotsman was out of action for four games during September after struggling with an ankle injury and since his return, the 34-year-old has only featured twice, both times as a late substitute.

However, aware of the quality and experience that he provides up top, Michael O'Neill felt the time was right to include him in the starting fold at the weekend as he played as a forward alongside Jacob Brown.

It was a decision that in the end proved to be the right one as his double was one of the main positives to come out of the Potters' 3-3 draw against Cardiff, particularly considering that they were three goals to the good with only 25 minutes remaining.

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The veteran could prove to be vital for the Potters

For Fletcher it must be considered a successful 74-minute spell as he  linked up well with Brown, who provided both assists for Fletcher's goals and opened the scoring with an early bullet header.

The former Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers player also had a tendency to slot into deeper positions to receive and hold up the ball which in turn allowed for runs in behind from the likes of Jordan Thompson and Romaine Sawyers.

Then when going forward with his experience, he had the ability to find dangerous attacking positions, and especially with the second goal, he had the composure to finish confidently past goalkeeper Alex Smithies.

Overall, it was a showing that O'Neill will be very pleased with and now he will just hope that Fletcher can stay fit as he certainly increases the quality of the Potters' attacking options and he provides good competition to the likes of Sam Surridge and Tyrese Campbell, which will be important if they are to mount a play-off push this campaign.