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The Rise of Sunderland's Connor Wickham

Adarsh Ashok
2.31K   //    05 May 2014, 11:14 IST
Connor Wickham

Connor Wickham

In 2009, Wickham burst into the scene when he broke into the first team at Ipswich Town at the age of 16, thus becoming the youngest player to play for the club. Then came the hype along with it. He was showing plenty of potential to become a top notch striker, the question being can he deliver at the highest level?

A string of good and consistent performances caught the eye of the then Black Cats manager Steve Bruce. Eventually, Sunderland offered Ipswich £8 million (£12 million including add-ons) in the summer of 2011 for the Ipswich striker. Ipswich reluctantly had to accept the offer (a club record fee).

Chief Executive of the club Simon Clegg said: “As much as we would have liked to have kept Connor at Portman Road, we have to be realistic and recognize that the offer was simply too good to turn down.”

And here he was at the Stadium of Light, all bright and shiny desperate to show his worth.

But his enthusiasm hit a bump on the road. He could not replicate his form. And again questions were asked; is he really Premier League material? The trio of managers before Gus Poyet offered him very few starts and he failed to impress whenever he did resulting in him warming the bench.

Aged 21 in 2013, he had less time to establish himself as a good striker. Gus Poyet indicated he didn’t need the services of the 21-year-old and he was eventually sent on loan to Sheffield Wednesday. For Wickham, the move came as a blessing in disguise. And then came the bright side. He finally began to showcase his talent on a regular basis.

In the 2013-14 season, he managed to net 8 goals in 13 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday. The young lad had found his form. Finally, Wickham could see himself as the player he always desired to become. The confidence and morale was up once again. Meanwhile, in the Premier League, Sunderland were struggling to find any sort of form, battling relegation. Their efforts took a blow when their star striker Steven Fletcher was sidelined due to injury.

That’s when Poyet decided to recall Wickham from loan as Sunderland desperately needed goals to avoid relegation. The chances looked slim as the next four fixtures included two of the top three clubs – Manchester City at the Etihad and Chelsea at their ‘Mighty Stamford Bridge’ where Jose had a record of 77 straight games without a red blot and then Cardiff – another club desperate to avoid relegation and the defending champions Manchester United at Old Trafford.

But Wickham and co. had other plans. They were adamant to stay in the Premier League. They wanted to survive. First, they battled neck and neck with Manchester City in a David vs Goliath battle and produced a brilliant display to get a 2-2 draw – both goals scored by Wickham. Then came ‘The Special one’ and his ‘Mighty Blues’. Again Wickham and co. produced an inspirational performance to end Mourinho’s streak at the Bridge, recording a historic 2-1 win with Wickham scoring one. Then came the fight for survival when they went head-to-head against Cardiff with both sides desperately needing a win. Sunderland thrashed Cardiff 4-0 with Wickham scoring a brace yet again.

He had now scored 5 goals in his past 3 matches. The striker had found the Midas touch. Then it was time to visit Old Trafford. It had been d a tough season for the Red Devils but they were still considered to be a power. The atmosphere at Old Trafford had changed under the reign of the interim manager Ryan Giggs who had won his first game in charge. But again Sunderland were set to defy the odds. Wickham went down the right wing in the 30th minute to find space despite Darren Fletcher trying to stop him and delivered a cross inside the box and Larsson carefully placed a half-volley across the face of the goal and into the bottom corner. Against all odds Sunderland had taken the lead and they screened off the pressure till the end of the 90th and bagged 3 points.

They had taken 7 points of a possible 9 from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea; which looked like a near impossible task and they have Connor Wickham’s efforts to thank for that. If they do survive it will be an inspirational tale of survival, which was not possible without the guidance of Gus Poyet and undoubtedly without the heroics of Connor Wickham.

This season has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. It’s been a tale of heroics and miseries.

The bit when ‘Stadium of Light’ was in the dark, it was Connor Wickham who lit the flame.
The flame which nearly ensures their survival. The flame of joy, inspiration and confidence.
Wickham’s status has changed now, from ‘not required’ to a ‘Hero’.
A hero, which was the need of the hour at Sunderland.

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Adarsh Ashok
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