WES BROWN says in-form Connor Wickham can develop into a top quality centre-forward after seeing the striker mature during their three years together at Sunderland.
Brown and Wickham both arrived at the Stadium of Light in the summer of 2011, as part of a shopping spree which saw then manager Steve Bruce make 11 signings.
But it has taken until the last fortnight for Sunderland to receive any genuine return on the £8million they invested in Wickham after the England Under-21 international was limited to fleeting first-team appearances before being sent on loan to Championship outfits Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.
Wickham’s three goals in his last two games have completely transformed Sunderland’s survival prospects though, while he has also added a much-needed attacking platform to the Black Cats forward line.
Former England international Brown can see the difference in Wickham, as the 21-year-old has began to learn how to make the most of his 6ft 4in frame, and believes there is even more to come from the former Ipswich frontman.
Brown told the Echo: “He’s been brilliant for us.
“I think the two goals at Manchester City has obviously helped him and he went to Chelsea very confident.
“He’s only a young lad, but he’s a big, strong lad.
“If he gets the best out of his ability, he’s going to be some player.
“He’s on a high at the moment and hopefully we can keep providing him with the goals.
“He’s been on loan to a few different clubs. Even when he’s been here, he’s not really started, only had one or two games.
“But the gaffer has decided to put him in and he has repaid him. He wants to play football and you can see the ability he’s got.
“But sometimes young players just need a bit of guidance and time.
“You can see what he’s shown over the last few games.”
Wickham’s equaliser at Stamford Bridge on Saturday provided the platform for Sunderland to win a Premier League game after falling behind for the first time since January 2013.
And with just three points now separating Gus Poyet’s side from the safety mark, Brown realises what a timely moment it was for Sunderland to end their two-and-a-half month wait for a top flight victory.
“It was a great result for us and gives us a massive chance now,” added the 34-year-old.
“We’ve been putting a lot of work into the last few games and we knew going to Chelsea that if we could put in the same performance we put in against City, we’d have a chance.
“We went behind again, but at the time, I thought we still played and put a lot of pressure on them and managed to get the goal from Connor.
“From there on, we just tried to defend as tight as we could and managed to get the penalty in the end.”