Connor Wickham could make his first Premier League start since August at Anfield tomorrow.
The 20-year-old’s recall from a loan at Leeds United shows Gustavo Poyet’s misgivings about Jozy Altidore and Ignacio Scocco ahead of this week’s game at Liverpool.
With Steven Fletcher injured and Fabio Borini ineligible against his parent club, Poyet now has a third option up front. Altidore has not scored in his last 20 games for club and country, a run stretching back to December.
In Fletcher’s absence with an ankle problem, he has been Sunderland’s first-choice centre-forward.
That is in part a reflection of Argentinian Scocco’s lack of impact since joining from Internacional in January. With the Brazilian season ending in December, the 28-year-old has been playing catch-up with his match-fitness since. Poyet admitted last week it is taking longer than expected. During his substitute appearance in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Norwich City, Scocco’s first touch was heavier than Altidore’s, which was no mean feat. He has not scored since early September.
As Wickham only returns today, Poyet may be reluctant to pitch him straight in from the start. The Uruguayan has clearly not been won over by the England Under-21 international, having twice sent him out on loan.
None of the four Sunderland managers Wickham has played under have found him a regular place in their team.
Liverpool were very interested in signing the striker until Sunderland outbid them in the summer of 2011, making him their most expensive teenager at £8.1m. But he has made just nine Premier League starts. One came this season, at Crystal Palace.
His recall is probably mutually beneficial with uncertainty surrounding Leeds’ finances. The Football League board has disqualified Massimo Cellino, who has been bankrolled the Championship club to the tune of more than £2m since January, from buying it. The Italian businessman was convicted last week of tax evasion in his homeland. He has 14 days to appeal the Football League’s ruling.
Wickham scored eight goals in 11 appearances in his first loan this season, at Sheffield Wednesday, but did not find the net in five Leeds matches.
He was not the only player to leave Elland Road yesterday, with Lee Peltier joining managerless Nottingham Forest until the end of the season.
Tomorrow’s match is one of two Sunderland have in hand over West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, the teams directly above them. Victory would lift them out of the relegation zone, but the Reds’ only league defeat at Anfield this season came against Southampton in September.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers has dampened Sunderland’s hopes of turning Borini’s season-long loan into a permanent deal by suggesting his club will be its main beneficiaries.
“Fabio went out to play more regularly than he was playing here,” Rogers explained.
“He has showed with some of the goals he has scored – particularly against the big teams – the qualities that he has. The goal he scored in the Capital One Cup final was a fantastic goal.
“Fabio will come back in the summer and he will be better for having played that season. And we’ll review it from there.
“Hopefully, in the future, Liverpool will benefit from it.”
Sunderland have warned supporters tickets for tomorrow night’s game will not be available at Anfield, though they can be bought from the Stadium of Light until noon on the day.
World Cup final referee Howard Webb will take charge of the Black Cats’ next home game, against West Ham United next Monday.