MARTIN O’NEILL will consider using Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham up front together if the circumstances are right.
Fletcher and Wickham are yet to feature together for Sunderland prior to today’s clash with Southampton, with all four of the latter’s appearances this season coming either as a replacement for his fellow striker or when he wasn’t on the field.
But with Fletcher topping Sunderland’s scoring charts and Wickham demonstrating his significant improvement since returning to the first-team fold, there have been calls for the duo to form a front pair.
O’Neill has generally favoured one orthodox striker, with Stephane Sessegnon supporting from a deep-lying role, during his year in the Sunderland hotseat and that is likely to remain his first-choice system.
But the Sunderland manager admits he has weighed up the merits of using 6ft-plus duo Wickham and Fletcher together and says there could be occasions when he uses the ploy.
O’Neill said: “It has crossed my mind.
“Sometimes that might lead to us going a bit more direct than normal.
“But it’s certainly an option.”
Wickham has undoubtedly improved over the last few months after coming under the tutelage of Sunderland coach Steve Guppy.
The former Celtic winger has been working alongside Wickham on a daily basis, with the England Under-21 international concentrating on his ball control and distribution.
In all of his appearances this month, Wickham has made a positive impression and was at the heart of a spirited comeback from Sunderland in the second half during last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United.
O’Neill was pleased with Wickham’s contribution against the league leaders after replacing the injured Fletcher at the interval.
“He didn’t do too badly at Old Trafford and that’s good for him and good for his confidence that he knows he can come in during a big test against top quality players,” said O’Neill.
“I thought he showed some really fine touches.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill hopes Wickham’s fellow striker Fraizer Campbell will receive a boost by getting on the scoresheet at Old Trafford.
Campbell, who has been linked with a January move to former club Hull City, netted his first goal since last February after being introduced from the bench midway through the second half.
O’Neill added: “It should give him a big boost. We need everyone available and with as much confidence as possible.”