STEVE Bruce hailed his new strike partnership, but hinted Sunderland fans should not get too used to it.
Playing alongside Nicklas Bendtner, the Black Cats’ most expensive teenager, Connor Wickham, marked his first Stadium of Light start with a maiden Premier League goal.
But Bruce suggested their partnership may be broken up on occasions.
“There is a big debate which rages here at Sunderland about whether we play 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 5-4-1,” said Bruce. “Against Villa we can play two strikers and score two goals but in the game itself and the second half in particular Villa caused us all sorts of problems because they had that extra man in midfield.
“They had more of the ball, even though they haven’t done a lot with it. It denies us time on the ball and leads to frustration in the crowd.
“Connor can expect a decent run in the team and when we have unleashed him it has been at the right time. He is far better now than four months ago.
“Connor is physically a big, strong boy, but he is a boy and we have to protect him. There will be a time when he runs out of juice and at that stage he will have to come out but we are very, very pleased with him at the moment. When we had lost (Danny) Welbeck, (Asamoah) Gyan and (Darren) Bent we decided the route we would go down was to bring in the young ones so we brought in Ji (Dong-Won), who hasn’t started yet but will play a part too.
“He (Wickham) is only 18 and there aren’t many playing in the Premier League at that age unless you are exceptional. Connor has a fantastic chance to be a very good player. It is not often you get someone who is 6ft 4in who has that mobility.
“Connor has been knocking on the door (to ask why he is not playing). It is the same with Ji, (Craig) Gardner, (Keiren) Westwood – the one certainty is they will get their chance.”
Kieran Richardson praised Wickham’s attitude, claiming Sunderland have more goalscoring options since Bent’s departure. “He is very positive,” he said. “He has everything. As long as he keeps his head down and listens to the manager I’m sure he will progress.
“Bendtner and Connor give us something different, they are totally different players to Benty. Last season it was more Benty scoring all of the goals, this season everyone is chipping in and that’s great for the confidence.”