CONNOR Wickham hopes to catch Gus Poyet’s eye in the remainder of this sorry season, to ensure he remains in the Sunderland manager’s long-term plans.
Wickham produced arguably his best performance since returning from his loan spell at Leeds United, in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Everton, as Sunderland edged ever closer to the relegation trapdoor.
Should Sunderland indeed fall into the Championship, there promises to be wholesale changes at the Stadium of Light during the summer, with eight players out of contract, a further five on loan deals and several of the club’s more high-profile performers inevitably expected to depart.
But Wickham, who has a further 12 months to run on his Sunderland contract, is one of the few players likely to still be at the Stadium of Light regardless of which division the Black Cats are competing in, albeit there has been interest in the England Under-21 striker from several Championship clubs this season.
After making his third start in four games since returning from Leeds, Wickham is keen to remain at the forefront of Poyet’s plans during the run-in and beyond, after being restricted to a bit-part role for the bulk of his three years at Sunderland.
Wickham said: “Contracts or stuff aren’t on the agenda for me.
“I just need to play football first and foremost and I haven’t had that here.
“The manager called me back with 10 games to go and finally I’m getting a chance.”
“The ball is in my court now. I think that was probably my best performance since I’ve come back, but also the whole team’s as well.
“It’s good for me to get back in the side.
“The manager said to me that I was going to play football when I came back.
“I was disappointed to be left out against Tottenham last week, but that’s how it goes and it’s his decision.
“But he put me back in on Saturday and hopefully I’ll start again at Man City on Wednesday.”
Wickham felt Sunderland at least deserved a point for their efforts after matching Champions League-chasing Everton, only to be undone by Wes Brown’s 75th minute own goal.
Poyet’s side remain seven points adrift of safety, yet with bottom three peers Fulham and Cardiff both winning on Saturday, Sunderland’s prospects look increasingly bleak.
“It wasn’t easy, but we dominated the game and then in the 75th minute, they got that slice of luck,” said Wickham.
“That’s something maybe we haven’t had all season.
“But that’s how football goes. We can take positives from the performance because we did well.
“We were solid, defended well and dominated the game.
“But it’s just that one bit of luck that they had and they take the plaudits.”
Despite a fifth successive league defeat though, Wickham felt it was important for Sunderland’s players to demonstrate that they are not throwing in the towel, with a crowd of more than 38,000 responding.
The 21-year-old added: “We won’t give up. We’ve got 23 players in that dressing room who want to stay up, who want to be here and do well for the team.
“I think the fans recognised that.
“That was important. They’re a massive boost for us. When they’re behind us, they’re fantastic.
“They’re a very honest set of fans. When we put in a good performance, they see that and it’s good that they are still backing us.”