Fletcher relishing O'Shea battle

Fletcher relishing O'Shea battle
Steven Fletcher

Scotland striker Steven Fletcher is relishing the opportunity of taking 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.”

Meanwhile, Celtic fan Shane Long is hoping to go some of the way towards fulfilling two dreams if he gets the chance to line up against Scotland.

The striker, who reminded international boss Martin O’Neill of his ability with a match-winning double in Southampton’s 2-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Leicester on Saturday, will make his first visit to Celtic Park as the Republic of Ireland attempt to maintain a fine start to their qualifying campaign.

Indeed, Long admits the result in Glasgow could play a major part in determining how the group finally pans out with the Irish currently three points better off than this week’s hosts.

The 27-year-old said: “It is massive. We have kind of been unlucky with the draws we have been getting with groups – we have a very tough group.

“Going to Celtic Park to play Scotland is going to be a massive occasion, and one I am really eager to be a part of. It is going to be a tough game. Scotland have really upped their game the last couple of years and they will see this as a chance to get three points as well.

“It could – and I might be overreacting here – really make or break how we get on in this campaign. If we don’t lose there, it will go a long way towards us qualifying.”

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