Sunderland boss David Moyes on Wahbi Khazri - and how he can still play a big part in survival battle

It was around now, in 2014, that Gus Poyet made his fateful intervention and brought Connor Wickham back from a loan spell at Leeds.

Saturday, 18th March 2017, 7:20 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:39 am
Wahbi Khazri. Picture by Frank Reid
Wahbi Khazri. Picture by Frank Reid

Recalling Wickham, who had not scored in five games at Elland Road, was an act of something close to desperation.

But, after three appearances without a goal in red and white, he would go on a streak that would save Sunderland from the drop.

The situation this season looks even bleaker, and the lack of firepower as stark.

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Jermain Defoe remains the great hope, but around him there has not been the service or the spark.

David Moyes would have been hoping that Jan Kirchhoff’s return would be a big boost, making his injury recurrence all the more devastating. Victor Anichebe and Lee Cattermole may yet return, but not for a while yet.

So where can Moyes find that lift from, as Poyet did with Wickham?

Many of the Black Cats faithful still retain hope that Wahbi Khazri can be the man, having impressed last season but struggled for meaningful game time this term.

He has not started a game since October’s 4-1 defeat to Arsenal, relegated this calendar year to a bit-part role from the bench.

So why has Khazri been unable to force his way in to a struggling side, one so clearly short of creativity and presence in the final third?

Is it because of Khazri’s training pitch performances, or what Moyes has seen on the pitch during his admittedly limited appearances?

Moyes said: “A bit of both.

“I told Wahbi right from the start that I needed him to retain possession.

“He is the type of player that I need to either score me a goal or make me a goal.

“And the games where I have put him in, he hasn’t done that for me.

“I need that to happen.”

Moyes is hopeful that Khazri still has a role to play in Sunderland’s battle against the drop.

The Sunderland boss is adamant that there has not been a fall-out with the Tunisian, or that he has a problem with his attitude.

He has even said that he can forgive a limited work-rate from the 26-year-old if he can be more decisive and influential in front of goal.

Khazri has not scored this season, but, if he could force his way into the side, his delivery from dead ball situations could also help a team who have suffered badly in that department so far.

He has not been able to change Sunderland’s fortunes coming off the bench in recent times, but his boss has seen some encouraging signs. Moyes said: “A little bit better [performances]. I need to see if I can find a way of using him so he can help me.

“His attitude has been good – he’s fine, I’ve no problem with him, there’s been no fall-out whatsoever, nothing like that. I have told him what I think he needs to do to be in the team.

“I can put up with other things – maybe he’s not always the hardest runner or worker – but he can’t not make me a goal or score me a goal. That’s what I need him for.”