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The Black Cats have flirted with the relegation zone all season, but their top scorer insists they can reach safety, while hailing his mother's influence over his recent good form

Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher has hailed Martin O'Neill's "determination" to propel the club up the Premier League table.

The Black Cats won consecutive games against Southampton and Manchester City around Christmas to ease their relegation fears, but back-to-back defeats since have left them looking back over their shoulders.

Fletcher believes that the Wearside club can comfortably beat the drop this season, however, and start to climb the table under O'Neill.

He told The Daily Mirror: “The manager is a massive presence around the place. Even when you don’t see him you know he’s about, and when he comes out on to the training pitch, the tempo lifts higher than it was previously.

“He’s a determined man. I saw that when I first came in and it’s great working with him. He doesn’t want to mess about. He knows what the team can achieve. We’re showing it slowly, but we’re getting there.”

Sunderland have relied heavily on Fletcher’s goals this season, and the 25-year-old is hoping to shine once more against West Ham on Saturday by reaching his goal target of double figures after netting eight times already.

He said: “I always aim for double figures and given that I’m only two away and we’re halfway through the season, I have to be content with that.

“Sure we’d like to be a bit further up the table, but we’re working on that. It was a hard Christmas period for us, but I thought we got through it quite well and, personally speaking, I’m up to eight goals now and I’m happy with that.”

Fletcher has been living with his mother in the North-East so far this season, and believes her looking after him at home has allowed him to focus on football.

“Having your family close helps you settle," he explained. "When you move away and you’re at a club on your own, you come back from training and you’re sitting there wondering what you’re going to do.

"But now I come back and my mum’s there, running about with the Hoover! She cleans my house! She brings me food, she looks after me.

"It’s alright! I’ve lived everywhere, all around the country, but this feels like home.”

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