Wickham set to lead Sunderland line at Burnley

Sunderland's Connor Wickham (front) and Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela battle for the ball.
Sunderland's Connor Wickham (front) and Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela battle for the ball.

CONNOR WICKHAM is expected to continue leading the line in Sunderland’s trip to newly-promoted Burnley this weekend.

But Gus Poyet has reiterated that his striker selection will be decided by goals, with the dropped Steven Fletcher still firmly in the Sunderland manager’s plans.

Great Escape hero Wickham operated in a central role for the first time this season in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Spurs and impressed Poyet, despite being starved of service.

Poyet opted to hand Wickham the chance to lead the line, while leaving fellow striker Fletcher out of the matchday 18 altogether, and has indicated that he will persist with the England Under-21 international at Turf Moor on Saturday.

But with Fletcher, plus Jozy Altidore, also fighting for the striking spot, Poyet has warned Wickham that he needs to contribute with goals after netting five times in last season’s escape from the drop.

Poyet said: “I know Fletch, he knows me. The situation is clear. We need to have that goal (from a striker).

“I think Connor was one of – if not the best – player on Saturday.

“He was very good holding the ball up, he was strong, good technically.

“But even if Connor played very, very well and deserves to play next week for sure, we need goals from the strikers. That’s the challenge for them. No doubt.”

Poyet expects Fletcher to react in the right manner to being left off the bench and has warned the rest of his squad that the Scotland international will be desperate to impress on the training ground this week.

But the head coach believes Fletcher’s omission is testament to the upgraded options he now has among his substitutes.

He said: “If you were one of the 18 and you know Fletch isn’t in, make sure it’s not you (next week).

“During the week, make sure you’re not having a bad one, because if you have a bad week, you are out.

“The bench is stronger and there’s different options on there.

“I can bring on a striker for a striker, or a winger for a winger.

“The winger coming on is maybe quicker than the one who was playing or the other way around.

“And in midfield, it’s the same. (Emanuele) Giaccherini gives us something we haven’t had for a while – that mobility across the front and going in behind and being good on the ball.”

Poyet believes it was those introductions from the bench which were crucial to Sunderland earning a point against Spurs after one of the substitutes, Jordi Gomez, saw his free-kick directed into his own net by Harry Kane for the Black Cats’ late equaliser.

“I can’t praise myself, but it was a decision,” added Poyet.

“I’ve made decisions in the past that didn’t work – playing five at the back at Spurs.

“But at the same time, on Saturday, I didn’t use a striker from the bench because I wanted to put on players like Giaccherini, Gomez and Will Buckley who could change the game.

“And that was what we needed. You can call it luck or a good decision.”

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