Striking options gives Sunderland boss a boost

NO FATIGUE ... Connor Wickham celebrates his goal against Burnley.
NO FATIGUE ... Connor Wickham celebrates his goal against Burnley.
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GUS POYET is glad to be cultivating competition among his four strikers after Connor Wickham’s surprisingly swift recovery.

Wickham is expected to play some part in tonight’s visit of managerless QPR after shaking off the calf injury which was originally expected to see him sidelined for a fortnight.

During Wickham’s two-game absence, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham have partnered Jermain Defoe up front, with the latter performing well in his first Sunderland start since May 2013 in last weekend’s draw at Swansea.

Poyet admitted after the Swansea clash that he couldn’t leave out Defoe at present, with the January signing netting two goals in his three Premier League starts for Sunderland.

But with three contenders vying to line up alongside Defoe, Poyet believes there is a healthy rivalry in Sunderland’s attack.

“I feel great about the possibility of using the four strikers as much as we can,” said Poyet.

“We’re trying to see which is the best partner, the one who gives us the most.

“I think Connor did well against Burnley, but unfortunately got injured.

“The sooner he gets back, the better for him because it means there’s less chances for someone else.

“You need that competition to maintain what we want to do - to play higher up the pitch and be more aggressive up front.

“You need the players up front to be fresh, holding the ball and making the difference. When you have options and you can change them, you get the best of them.

“It’s not the same competing for two positions when you are three.

“And then it’s up to them.

“Of course, we look at the goals first.

“Then if for whatever reason you don’t score, you look at the performance and the result.

“Sometimes players don’t score, but give the team something. And if you don’t score, don’t perform and don’t win, you won’t have any chance with me!”

Wickham pulled out of last week’s FA Cup fourth round replay at Fulham after suffering a calf injury during the warm-up.

The 21-year-old was thought to have pulled a muscle and was expected to be on the sidelines for up to three weeks.

But the injury was not as severe as first feared, with Wickham due to take part in a light training session with the rest of the first-team squad this morning, prior to tonight’s encounter.

Poyet added: “It’s a surprise, but I’m delighted.

“It’s unexpected because I thought it was worse.

“If you asked me last Friday which one would be back first, Connor or Jack Rodwell, I thought it would be Jack.

“But for some reason, it’s the other way around.

“If everything is fine, he’ll be there tonight.

“The problem we expected him to have, was not that bad.

“The scan confirms some things, but you don’t want anything worse to happen.

“From Connor’s explanation, we thought it was a typical pull, which would mean three weeks.

“But maybe it was more of a strong cramp or a bit of tightness. That’s good news.”