Boss backs striker’s first-team push.
Martin O’Neill is helping Connor Wickham use his physical gifts to terrorise Barclays Premier League defences.
The 19-year-old has been working hard on his game in training and was rewarded with an appearance off the bench at Norwich last weekend.
He seems to have got stronger during my time here and now he doesn’t have to worry about being in the gym and building himself up
- Connor Wickham
Wickham was introduced as a half-time replacement for Steven Fletcher and impressed as Sunderland dominated the second period against the in-form Canaries.
The former Ipswich man has found playing time limited this season but is beginning to come increasingly to the fore by focusing on using his imposing physical presence to his advantage.
“Connor asked me what things he needed to address and aggression is very important,” O’Neill told safc.com.
“That doesn’t mean running around, kicking players and slamming into people – and Connor didn’t take it in that manner.
“It means being aggressive in his own game – it means when the ball is there to be headed, going higher than anyone else and heading it full force.
“Winning flick-ons is totally different to full-blooded headers in the opponents’ penalty area. Those are the kinds of things I expect.”
Meanwhile O’Neill believes Wickham has developed a frame which is more than capable of taking the punishment dished out by top-flight centre-backs.
And he says that having that base to build from will serve Wickham well as the striker looks to continue pushing on.
“Connor is a very, very strong player and I’ve noticed that in the year I’ve been here,” he said.
“He seems to have got stronger during my time here and now he doesn’t have to worry about being in the gym and building himself up.
“He can be very strong indeed and not being shoved around is very important in today’s game.
“When you feel you have that strength, the other aspects of a player’s game coming into being and more to the fore.
“You’re more comfortable with those aspects simply because you have that strength behind you.”