Niall Quinn has told Connor Wickham he can become Sunderland’s answer to Alan Shearer - but he has to work harder.
The 21-year-old has emerged as the Black Cats’ unlikely hero as they plot the greatest of escapes, scoring five goals in four games to earn himself the Premier League’s player of the month award and finally pay off a chunk of the £8million the club invested in 2011. That transfer was negotiated on Quinn’s watch as chairman by then boss Steve Bruce – and the Irishman still believes in the youngster’s potential.
He has hailed him as a potential Shearer in-the-making for the Black Cats – but with the crucial caveat that he must start to apply himself on the training ground.
Quinn said: “Well done to him. I think he can be Sunderland’s Alan Shearer – it is a high bar to set for him, but I believe he can.”
That high praise comes with a warning for a player whose attitude has been questioned before.
Quinn is naturally delighted to see his old club emerging from a desperate relegation battle with the survival likely assured but, despite his success, he does not want the lessons to go unheeded by Wickham. Quinn added: “He has the chance now and he has the ability.
“I think he’ll want it more than ever now but I’d like to see him be the last out of the training ground.
“I’d like to see him perfect his art, I’d like to see him watch videos of people like Alan Shearer sneaking into the box as opposed to walking in in a straight line and suddenly you’ve nowhere to go when the ball comes across.
“He could make things good for himself if he starts to look at what other players do and practises on the training ground.
“He needs to make curved runs into the box, lose his man, go one way or the other.
“He’s starting to do it but it doesn’t come from listening to people and allowing them to pat you on the back.
“It comes on the training ground and if he wants to be the top player his ability means he can be, then he needs to do that.”
Meanwhile, Wes Brown has hailed the “belief” of Sunderland’s players as they look to secure survival with a point at home to West Brom tomorrow night.
The transformation has been incredible and Brown believes it is a testament to their inner belief.
He said: “I scored the own goal against Everton. It was looking bleak. It has been like that a lot this season. That’s football.
“We never put our heads down and we believed we could stay up. We have shown that over the last two or three weeks.
“There would have been sides that crumbled, like sides have, but in the changing room there has always been a good belief.
“There have not been many games when we have been battered. We have nearly always played well, just haven’t had that end product or we have conceded a few.
“We all said to each other we have nothing to lose so we might as well go out with our heads held high – we have carried on and we have helped ourselves.”
It may have been a close call but Brown feels Sunderland will be well-placed to capitalise on the momentum from their fine end to the season if they manage to stave off the drop in the remaining two games.
The former Manchester United defender added: “I think we have played good football at times.
“We have known the situation, we have had to battle down and shut up shop at times.
“When we have got the ball, we have looked a good team. We have scored goals.
“The more the confidence can come the better we will be as a team and if we can start next season like that, then hopefully we will avoid a repeat.”