ENGLAND Under-21 boss Brian Eastick expects Connor Wickham to get over his slow start to life at Sunderland.
Wickham was dropped for the trip to Belgium in November after a combination of injuries and a lack of form conspired against the young Black Cat.
He is back for Wednesday’s Euro 2013 qualifier against the same opponents at the Riverside – with Eastick confident he will find his feet in time.
Former Newcastle Academy director Eastick is in sole charge of the under-21s for the first time on Teesside, his boss Stuart Pearce having been handed the reins of the senior side for one game only.
It follows five years at the Football Association working at various levels, one of which brought him into contact with Wickham when he was still at Ipswich.
He has seen the raw potential which convinced Steve Bruce to spend £8million on him in the summer.
Eastick said: “Connor played for me for the England under-17s and he has had a very big move since then.
It has taken him a little bit of time and he is still a developing player, but he has always been in our thoughts and he is a talented player who has a big future.”
Wickham is one of three North East-based stars in the under-21 squad, with Middlesbrough duo Joe Bennett and Jason Steele both included.
Former Sunderland man Jordan Henderson will skipper the side for a game Eastick admits is vital to their hopes of making it to next summer’s finals in Israel.
He added: “We lost 2-1 to Belgium in the last game but it was a very, very tight game.
“We controlled the game but lost it right at the end and that has given them a bit of a lifeline.
“They will believe that they can win the group now so it is up to us to beat them and take away their chance of doing that.”
Eastick is buoyed by the prospect of a bumper Riverside crowd for the 6pm kick-off.
Some 15,000 tickets have already been sold.
He said: “The North East is a terrific football area and it is no surprise they are getting behind us in such huge numbers.