PATIENT Connor Wickham is eager to prove his Premier League credentials after his longest first-team run-out since January.
Wickham has endured a challenging second season at the Stadium of Light after being limited to just two minutes of first-team football before yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich City.
Despite netting three goals in four games for the England Under-21s, Wickham has been confined to the fringes by Martin O’Neill, who had considered sending the 19-year-old on loan to the Championship.
But Wickham shone as a half-time replacement for the injured Steven Fletcher at Carrow Road yesterday in a stirring, if ultimately fruitless, second-half display from Sunderland.
The £8m striker is relieved his dedication on the training ground is paying off, and is already targeting a starting spot against Chelsea on Saturday, should Fletcher fail to shake off an ankle problem.
Wickham told the Gazette: “I’ve just got to show when I do get on the pitch that I’m capable of playing in the Premier League.
“That’s what every boy dreams of, so I’ve got to grab it with both hands and show the manager that I can be there.
“It’s been a test of patience for the last four or five months, just waiting to get on.
“Yesterday it came, and I don’t think I’ve done myself any harm.
“I know that I haven’t had as much time on the pitch as I would have liked. But I’ve worked as hard as I can on the training ground.
“The manager has said what he wants me to do, and I’ve tried to do it. He’s asked me just to hold the ball up, be strong, commanding and more aggressive.
“I’ve tried to do that in training as much as I can, and hopefully he’s noticed that.
“He’s given me the chance, and it’s just down to me to take my chance every time I get it.
“I thought I did quite well when I came on yesterday, so hopefully that will put me in good stead for next weekend.”
The former Ipswich man looked to have levelled for Sunderland, only for the strike to be correctly ruled out for offside, while he was denied on three occasions by desperate last-gasp challenges from the Canaries.
The equaliser never arrived for the Black Cats, who paid the price for a woeful first-half display before Craig Gardner gave them hope by halving Norwich’s advantage a minute before the interval.
“On another day, I could have had two or three,” added Wickham.
“I think I lost my head a little bit with the offside one before I saw the lino’s flag, and I was a bit disappointed.
“Obviously we were disappointed with the defeat – we thought we could go there and nick a point, even though they are on a good run.
“The boys knew for the second half what they needed to do because the first half was nowhere near good enough.
“We came out in the second half and dominated, got forward, but we are ruing our missed chances.
“We created more than one chance in the second half, and it’s just disappointing to come away empty-handed.”