Connor Wickham

Wickham wins boss's backing

by Stuart Vose

O’Neill impressed with striker’s recent form.

Martin O’Neill has been pleased with the recent progress made by Connor Wickham and says, in time, he will become a “real player”.

The 19-year-old made his first senior appearance of the season as a late substitute at Everton last weekend after some impressive showings for the development squad and England’s under-21 side.

His goalscoring form hasn’t escaped the attention of the Sunderland boss, who admits Wickham has had to develop under considerable pressure since joining the club in summer 2011.

“Connor has been doing exceptionally well in training over the last few weeks and that’s very promising,” he said.

“It’s been a tough time for him because he’s come here with a big price tag and he’s at a pretty tender age as well.

“There has been pressure on him from day one to go and produce in this league as if he’s been here all his life. It’s taken a little bit of time to get used to it but he will adjust I’m sure.

“In the course of time, we will see a real player.”

Meanwhile O’Neill says he is looking to keep the striker in his squad amidst rumours of a possible loan departure.

"A number of clubs have asked about him and we’ve already sent David Meyler out to Hull,” said the Sunderland boss.

“We don’t have the biggest squad in the world. Of course it would be great for some of the younger players like Connor to get those games but we couldn’t do it last week because Connor was in our squad – in fact he came on late in the game against Everton. We just don’t have the numbers at this moment.

“Plus the fact that now at this particular stage it might be difficult, because we have seven games in the next month. We just can’t afford to do that at this moment.”