MARTIN O’Neill is delighted Connor Wickham recognised his Sunderland career was standing still, and did something about it.
Wickham (pictured right) impressed in his second appearance of the season last Sunday, as a half-time substitute against Norwich City. With Steven Fletcher facing a fitness test on his ankle today, he could be handed another chance at home to Chelsea.
The 19-year-old spoke in glowing terms this week about the training-ground work O’Neill has put into him, but Sunderland’s manager is unwilling to take any credit from where it belongs.
“It’s entirely up to the player,” he stresses. “We’re doing a lot of work with him and the young players after training but the biggest thing for Connor is he wants to do it and he wants to improve. He has the physique and natural attributes so it’s really up to him.”
O’Neill reportedly once tried to sign Wickham, and handed him only a fourth Sunderland start in his first game in charge.
But a solitary 89th-minute substitute appearance this season suggested he had decided actually he did not think much of a man in goalscoring form for England Under-21s.
“Connor played in my first game because (Nicklas) Bendtner wasn’t available,” O’Neill recalls. “Connor played in the next game and came off injured against Tottenham so he’s found his career standing still, certainly at club level, but he’s addressing it and that’s the most important thing.”
Wickham’s Norwich run-out hinted at better. You will not see O’Neill rushing for the bunting just yet, though.
“Don’t start reading everything into a 45-minute performance,” he warns.
Sunderland’s most expensive teenager can take confidence from his manager’s attitude to Britain’s costliest forward, Fernando Torres.
“Strikers do go through losses of form,” O’Neill points out. “His loss of form has continued far longer that you were expecting but there are good signs for him.”
At Carrow Road there were good signs for Wickham too. Both he and Torres need a little more than that.