CONNOR WICKHAM is unlikely to return to former club Ipswich Town, if Martin O’Neill allows the teenage striker to leave Sunderland on loan.
Wickham has started each of Sunderland’s three pre-season outings and found the net in the Peace Cup encounter against Groningen.
But the 19-year-old is likely to be pushed down the pecking order at the Stadium of Light if Sunderland boss O’Neill can boost his striking options before the end of the month.
Despite Championship outfit Wolves turning down Sunderland’s £10million offer for striker Steven Fletcher, the Black Cats are not thought to have ended their hopes of landing the 25-year-old.
The arrival of a Fletcher would give O’Neill leeway to consider sending rookies Wickham, Ryan Noble and Ji Dong-won on loan to get regular first-team football, albeit there are unlikely to be any departures before the end of the transfer window.
Ipswich enquired about signing Wickham on loan last season and the Tractor Boys remain eager to take him back to Portman Road after his £8m sale to Sunderland last summer.
But Ipswich boss Paul Jewell admits Wickham’s wages present the major barrier to any potential deal.
Jewell said: “I do think we have first call on Connor.
“But we would have to pay three-quarters of his wages and we don’t have that type of money.”
Wickham is desperate to prove his value on Wearside after starting just five Premier League games in his debut season for Sunderland – scoring his only goal in October’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.
The England U21 man is not interested in a loan move and has been doing specialist work with Black Cats coach Steve Guppy.
“I want to do better this season than I did the last,” Wickham told SportMail.
“I had injuries, a lot of settling in and adjusting to do but I really want to hit the ground running this season.”
Wickham has been mooted as a possible make-weight in a deal to bring Fletcher to the Stadium of Light.
But Wolves are well-stocked up front and the negotiations are so far thought to have simply revolved around the Scottish striker’s price tag.
Wolves are determined to keep Fletcher at Molineux and believe the 25-year-old, along with winger Matt Jarvis, represent their best hopes of returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Last season’s top flight basement boys are also financially secure and do not need to sell Fletcher to make up the shortfall stemming from relegation.
Sunderland are now considering their next move after seeing their offer - which totalled £10m - turned down, but only a bid in excess of £12m is likely to tempt Wolves.
Fletcher. who missed a second successive Wolves pre-season outing last night with an ankle problem, is understood to be desperate to remain in the Premier League and is keen on a move to Sunderland.
Meanwhile, Sunderland again watched Ajax midfielder Vurnon Anita in action in last weekend’s friendly against Southampton.
The Black Cats have been keeping tabs on Anita, who is equally comfortable as either a full-back or defensive midfielder.
But Sunderland have made no approach for the 23-year-old, with Newcastle still the only club to have made a bid for the Holland international.
Newcastle saw a £4m offer for Anita rejected earlier this summer.with Ajax thought to be looking for an £8m fee.