Sunderland’s Wickham eyes England U21 progress

Connor Wickham.
Connor Wickham.

CONNOR WICKHAM hopes a new era for the England Under-21s will bring more success on the big stage – even if he is absent for the start of it.

The Sunderland striker was forced to pull out of the first squad of new U21 boss Gareth Southgate after sustaining an injury in the Black Cats’ 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace last weekend.

Wickham has spent the week undergoing treatment at the Academy of Light, while Southgate has prepared his side for European Championship qualifiers against Moldova tonight and Finland on Monday.

England will be firm favourites to qualify for the 2015 tournament in the Czech Republic, but it is at major championships where they have struggled in recent years.

Under Stuart Pearce, England failed to emerge from the group in the 2011 and 2013 Euros, mustering just one goal in three games at this summer’s tournament in Israel.

But Wickham was pleased to be included in former Middlesbrough boss Southgate’s inaugural squad and is keen to see how the FA’s former head of elite development can help the side progress.

The 20-year-old told the Echo: “It was nice to get the call and hopefully, in this campaign, we can do a bit better if we qualify for the next championships.

“The manager has been in or around the squads a couple of times, but I’ve never worked with him on a permanent basis.

“But it will be interesting and it’s the start of a new era.

“We’ve got a new team and hopefully we can do better this year.”

Wickham was on the scoresheet for the U21s in their 6-0 rout over Scotland at Bramall Lane before the start of the Premier League season, as senior boss Roy Hodgson took charge of England’s youngsters on a one-off basis.

The £8million Sunderland man says the experience was a useful one, with Hodgson outlining what the U21 players would need to achieve to progress to the senior level.

But that remains a distant pipe-dream for Wickham, whose principal aim this season is to enjoy a more regular role for Sunderland after being confined to a bit-part brief during his two years at the Stadium of Light.

“He (Hodgson) gave us an insight of what it takes to get into the senior team,” added Wickham.

“But first and foremost for me is to get into the Sunderland team and then whatever will come from that, will come.

“It’s just focusing on Sunderland for me now.”