CONNOR WICKHAM is playing better now than when he helped keep Sunderland in the Premier League six months ago – despite the stark contrast in his goals return.
That’s the vote of confidence delivered by Gus Poyet, as he looks for Wickham to break his duck in the Premier League this season in tomorrow’s visit of Stoke City.
Wickham’s five goals in three games last April proved to be the catalyst for Sunderland remaining in the top flight, yet the striker has drawn a blank in the league this time around, with his only goal coming in August’s Capital One Cup win at Birmingham City.
The 21-year-old spurned a glorious chance to open his account in last weekend’s stalemate against Swansea, but Sunderland boss Poyet believes the £8million frontman’s all-round game has improved significantly since the Great Escape.
Poyet, who has handed Wickham starts in each of Sunderland’s six Premier League games this season, said: “Connor just needs a goal.
“I actually think he is playing better than he did last year, but he is scoring less goals.
“It’s about finding a balance.
“We don’t want him to be the best player on the pitch every week without scoring, but nor do we want him to be awful and scoring a goal every now and then.
“He needs to find the balance between playing well and scoring - and he will get there.
“We need to keep on creating chances for him and it is only when we stop creating chances that he will have a problem.
“There’s a big difference between a striker who doesn’t score because his team is not creating chances, and one who has chances but is missing them.”
Poyet initially sent Wickham on loan to Championship sides Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds after taking charge at the Stadium of Light.
But since bringing Wickham back to Wearside in March, Poyet believes the former Ipswich Town striker has progressed markedly by grasping the standards set for him on the training ground.
Poyet, who is expected to persist with Wickham in the starting XI against Stoke, added: “He is holding the ball the ball up better now and I think that’s due to the way we train and the fact that he knows just what we want him to do.
“It’s not just about doing it in games, it’s also about taking care of the ball every day in training and he does that.
“He has been impressive and he has been a massive player for us.
“I enjoy watching him and I just want to start seeing him put the ball in the net.”