STEPHANE Sessegnon has challenged fellow frontman Connor Wickham to maintain his progress until the end of the season.
Wickham has impressed in each of his three appearances for Sunderland this month after previously being limited to just two minutes of first-team football during the campaign.
The 19-year-old has evidently made significant strides since his maiden campaign on Wearside, where he only made a fleeting impression for the Black Cats.
And with Steven Fletcher an injury concern for Saturday’s crunch trip to Southampton due to a back problem, Wickham is on standby to make only his second Premier League start in 12 months at St Mary’s.
But after watching Wickham make an impact as a half-time replacement for Fletcher in last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Manchester United, Sessegnon says the £8m frontman must continue his improvement to boost Sunderland’s bid to move away from the relegation zone.
Sessegnon told the Gazette: “He’s worked really hard and given his maximum on the training field, and now his confidence is good.
“I hope that he can continue in that way because between now and the end of the season, we need everyone to give everything.
“He is still young and he will continue to improve. Hopefully we can keep helping him and advising him on how to get better.
“Since he’s come into the team, he’s done very well.
“After he came onto the field against Manchester United, he played a big part in keeping hold of the ball, and he was able to give a lot to us.
“It’s good for him and good for the team that he’s found some form.”
Wickham’s improvement is yet to coincide with a goal though, with the England Under-21 international’s strike against Aston Villa in October last year still the only occasion on which he has found the net for the Black Cats.
There will be few more opportune moments for Wickham to find the net than at Southampton, as Sunderland look to secure some breathing space with the drop zone.
Just a point separates the two clubs, with only goal difference keeping the Saints above third bottom Wigan.
And Sessegnon is well aware of the magnitude of facing one of Sunderland’s relegation-threatened peers this weekend.
“We have got another important match this weekend at Southampton,” added the Benin forward.
“They are one of those teams in a similar position to us so we need to get something from the game.
“The spirit is still good in the squad though, as it has been all season.
“We must go to Southampton with confidence and try to take positives from the second half at Man United.
“We need lots of desire and aggression, while keeping our heads, and it’s a game we can win, as we think in all games.”