Gus Poyet wants to see Connor Wickham banging in goals for Sunderland

IMPRESSIVE: Sunderland's Connor Wickham

IMPRESSIVE: Sunderland's Connor Wickham

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CONNOR WICKHAM’S performance levels during pre-season have reiterated to Gus Poyet how important the striker is in Sunderland’s long-term plans.

Wickham’s future has been the subject of intense scrutiny this summer after the striker’s five goals in six games at the end of last season were pivotal towards Sunderland remaining in the Premier League.

Sunderland have been in contract talks with Wickham’s agent since the end of last season, although the club are yet to make a concrete offer of a new deal.

And the Black Cats rejected West Ham’s overtures earlier this week after a couple of bids for Wickham’s services, despite the England Under-21 frontman being in the final year of his contract.

But Poyet insists the speculation has not affected Wickham’s attitude either in training or in Sunderland’s friendly programme and believes the 21-year-old has demonstrated what a crucial asset he is for the Black Cats.

Poyet told SportMail: “Connor is a very important player for us this season.

“I think he looks great and happy, which is important.

“He has been playing (in pre-season) and he is going to play a lot this season.

“He’s a fit lad, he’s been playing more than ever and he’s been scoring goals.

“I think he’s found the place to perform. That’s why I’m not very worried.

“Now I want to see him in the same form as last season, scoring goals.”

Poyet is relaxed over Wickham’s contract situation and has confirmed that the club are yet to make a formal offer for a new deal.

And while the head coach did not welcome West Ham’s approach for Wickham’s services, he realises that it is something he cannot affect.

“We haven’t offered a contract because everything is agreed that, at the right time when everything is calm, there will be a negotiation for him to stay here,” added Poyet.

“It doesn’t mean he will definitely stay because maybe he won’t agree a contract!

“But I don’t want people to think that we have offered a contract and he has turned it down. That is not the case.

“We are in agreement that we want him to stay.

“I would like not to listen to any more offers, for any player now, but you can’t stop them.”