STEVEN FLETCHER last night admitted he was delighted at being able to repay Scotland manager Gordon Strachan for his unstinting loyalty with his second hat-trick against Gibraltar this year.

And the Sunderland striker expressed hope Strachan will agree to stay in charge and lead the national team in their quest to reach the World Cup finals in Russia in 2018.

Fletcher scored three goals for his country in the second half of the emphatic 6-0 victory over the Group D minnows at the Estadio Algarve here last night.

He has been heavily criticised by supporters for his performances up front during an unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign and there had been a growing clamour for Leigh Griffiths to get selected ahead of him.

But the former Hibs, Burnley and Wolves man scored a superb goal in the 2-2 draw with Poland at Hampden on Thursday evening and then ran riot against the section’s minnows last night.

“Gordon brought me back to the fold when I wasn’t involved and I have a lot to thank him for,” he said. “He has stuck by me and hopefully I have repaid him with a few of the goals I scored recently.

“It’s been tough because you get a lot of criticism and people talking about you. But you know what he’s like. He is a great guy to have around – he lifts you when you are down.

“I had a chat with him before the Poland game in the morning. He spoke to me and told me to do what he knew I could do.

“It’s important for me to score goals. It’s my job. I know I have to score goals as well as produce good performances. I’m very happy to get them.

“I never had any doubts about coming back even when people were criticising me. The gaffer has given me a second chance and I want to take it with both hands.”

Strachan was only contracted by the SFA to lead Scotland’s bid to reach the European Championship finals in France next summer and Fletcher is hoping he agrees to stay.

“It would be hard to see him go now,” he said. “But as you can see by the performance we put in we won’t make it straight forward for him.

‘The fans were singing his name in the first minute and the players feel exactly the same. Hopefully the fans will sway him. But he is a strong man and he has to make a decision. He knows how we feel.

“The performances in the last two games has given us hope. Performance wise against Poland and again today on a tricky pitch we were good. We tried to pass the ball about

“It was a great performance on a heavy pitch, and it was tough on the legs after playing the other night. But we had about 10,000 fans watching us over here so we had to put on a performance.

“The fans came here even though we had nothing to play for and that was fantastic. They still travelled here in great numbers and we just wanted to show them that we are not down and out.

“It’s been a nice week for me personally after getting a few goals but I wanted to qualify for the Euros. That was the disappointing thing but it was nice to get the match ball tonight.”