Speaking to the Sunderland Echo, former Sunderland man Gary Rowell expressed his belief that Dick Advocaat should focus upon improving Connor Wickham, if the Black Cats want to have any hope of staying in the Premier League.
He said: “He was one of the positives to come out of Dick Advocaat’s first game in charge and I hope he keeps his place and gets a regular start from now on, as I fear he’s suffered from being in and out. When he has been picked, it’s often been out of position.
“That lack of continuity doesn’t help any player, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Advocaat sees getting the best out of Wickham as one of his top priorities in ensuring Sunderland’s survival.”
Wickham ended last season as Sunderland’s saviour, when he scored five goals in the last six games to help keep the Wearside club in the top flight.
However, his season has not progressed as smoothly this year, with Gus Poyet rewarding him a first-team role, but usually out of position.
The 22-year-old was frequently deployed on the left of midfield in a flat 4-5-1 formation, resulting in a focus upon his defensive and physical attributes, rather than his goalscoring ability.
As a result of this, he has managed just three goals in 28 Premier League games.
Yet, he was given a more attacking role in Advocaat’s first game in charge, still deployed on the left, but in a front-three as the Black Cats took on West Ham.
They could not achieve victory, but they did manage to create a number of goalscoring chances as Wickham provided a good strike partner for Jermain Defoe.
The club might not need him to score as many goals as he did last term, with that now Defoe’s main role, but Wickham will certainly play a key part in their survival. It is no surprise to see Rowell highlight the young Englishman as the main man Advocaat should be focusing upon in this late season charge.