Manchester United starlet Ashley Fletcher has been tipped to mirror the achievements of Marcus Rashford and become the latest youngster to break into the Old Trafford first team. The 20-year-old has spent the second half of the season on loan at League One side Barnsley. He has been a big part of the Tykes' battle for a play-off spot, netting seven goals including a double in the recent win over Colchester United.
Fletcher also scored in the Football League Trophy final against Oxford United in the first of what the club hopes are two trips to Wembley this season. The forward has shown he can cope with the big occasions several times this year, and according to caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom there is no reason why he cannot emulate Rashford next season.
Seven goals in 15 appearances for United have seen Rashford become a key part of the first team under Louis van Gaal and led to speculation regarding a possible call-up to the England squad for the summer's European Championship. The 18-year-old is one of a cluster of young players to earn promotion into the senior ranks this term, leading to many looking for the next starlet to break through.
"[Breaking into the United first team], that has to be his aim," Heckingbottom said, according to the Sheffield Star. "I thought he was good first half last week against Sheffield United and we spoke about that and how he can replicate that form over longer periods. And he did it, so fair play to him. He's got some real good attributes and the more time he's spending here with us the more he's learning how to be effective in the game using those attributes."
Though Fletcher's move to Oakwell denied him the opportunity to make his United senior debut as Rashford stood in amid an attacking injury crisis at the club, half a season in the Football League will stand him in good stead ahead of a return to the north west. Heckingbottom – a former United trainee himself – is keeping a close eye on the on-loan striker, and has noticed a marked improvement in recent weeks.
"[The performance against Colchester] that's probably his most consistent game from 0-90 minutes," he added. "He did well. We felt our centre forwards would cause them problems; Fletch was really positive and buoyant before the game and you sensed that he'd have a good game. Luckily he got the two goals and most of our good play and opportunities were through our individual quality whether it was a delivery, a run or a bit of skill.
"If we'd have been more consistent in that quality and keeping the possession we'd have created more chances, if we'd have been more ruthless we'd have taken more of the chances we created and we'd have made it an easier game. They're the things we have to learn from and be better at going forward."