Keiren Westwood joins Phil Bardsely in leaving Sunderland

Departing keeper Keiren Westwood
Departing keeper Keiren Westwood

CONNOR WICKHAM has pledged to keep himself in shape this summer and ensure he starts next season as Sunderland’s first-choice frontman.

Wickham relished his longest run of successive Premier League appearances at the end of the campaign after starting each of Sunderland’s last seven games.

But the England Under-21 frontman realises that is no guarantee of continuing as Sunderland’s main striker when Gus Poyet begins his first full season in charge.

Wickham is eager to impress Poyet all over again when pre-season training begins in July though and ensure he doesn’t return to the fringe role he endured for much of his first three years at the Stadium of Light.

The 21-year-old said: “The aim is to be the main striker next season.

“I won’t think about it until I start doing my own training.

“I’ll take a break, switch off, relax and have a bit of chill out time.

“Then I’ll start doing my training and start thinking about it.

“I’ll make sure I do the right training and make sure I put myself in the manager’s thoughts when we come back.”

Wickham was by some distance the most impressive frontman in Sunderland’s ranks last season after both Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore endured miserable campaigns - the pair netting just four Premier League goals between them.

Yet Fletcher will be fully fit for the start of pre-season training after being hampered by a succession of injuries over the last year, while Altidore has the chance to restore some much-needed confidence in next month’s World Cup.

There is also the possibility that Poyet will add to his attacking options in the transfer market this summer, although that is likely to depend on either Fletcher or Altidore being offloaded.

But the potential for added competition within Sunderland’s ranks is not a prospect which leaves Wickham daunted.

“There’s a lot of competition for places, particularly as Fletcher is going to come back,” added the former Ipswich man.

“Obviously Fabio (Borini) won’t be here, but it’s down to me and what I can do.

“I’ve just got to be better than anyone in my position.

“At the end of the day, the competition makes it interesting.”