CONNOR Wickham insists he does not want to go out on loan.
The 19-year-old would prefer instead to stay at Sunderland and fight to make a first-team impact this season, despite the increased competition for places up front.
And the England Under-21 international says he is determined to improve to the point where he becomes a genuine contender for a place in the Black Cats’ starting line-up.
Wickham told the Gazette: “What happens in football happens, and if the club wants me to go out on loan then so be it.
“But personally, I’d like to stay and fight to get in the first-team squad, and get time on the pitch in the Premier League.
“The Premier League is where you want to play your football, and having worked hard to get here and made the move to a club like Sunderland, I want to make the most of it.
“I’m only young and I know I can improve, and I’m loving being at the club.”
Competition for places in the starting line-up up front has improved over the summer with the arrival of £12m signing Steven Fletcher and the former Manchester United and Everton striker Louis Saha.
With Stephane Sessegnon being used as Fletcher’s first-team partner, and Fraizer Campbell also hoping to make an impact in the last year of his contract, Wickham and fellow young striker Ji Dong-won have found themselves pushed to the periphery of the squad.
But Wickham, who scored twice in the Sunderland Under-21 squad’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, says his challenge this season is to put pressure on the players ahead of him.
He said: “Fletch has made a great start, and you can tell he’s a natural finisher, while Louis has been there and done it at the highest level for many years.
“They’re both quality players, and it is great for Sunderland to have them.
“It’s not a problem for me that they’re in my position because I’m young and wanting to learn and improve all the time, and working with players like them is also good for your own game.
“I’m enjoying playing with them in training, and looking to pick things up.”
Wickham has had no first-team action this season with Sunderland, and so is looking to catch the eye at England Under-21 level.
The young Lions play Serbia tomorrow night at Norwich City’s Carrow Road ground in the first leg of their Euro 2013 play-off. The return leg will be held in Krusevac next Tuesday.
A cracking goal from the Sunderland striker was one of the highlights of an England Under-21 training session yesterday.
Wickham’s arrowing left-foot strike during a small-sided game at Norwich’s Colney training base gave keeper Declan Rudd little chance as it crashed in off the post.
And joining Wickham among the goals was Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, who is enjoying his first get-together with Stuart Pearce’s men, and Bolton hitman Marvin Sordell.
Wickham said: “The Under-21s is really important to me.
“I’ve been playing in them since I was 17, and it’s a really great chance to develop your game because you’re training with all the best young players from across the country and seeing how different players do things.”