Wickham stakes his claim for Sunderland start

Sunderland's Connor Whickham.
Sunderland's Connor Whickham.

CONNOR WICKHAM hopes he has thrust himself into contention for Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace after proving the catalyst for Sunderland’s dramatic Capital One Cup comeback.

Second half substitute Wickham was Sunderland’s saviour at the Stadium of Light last night after scoring two and making one during a stunning finale which saw the Black Cats battle from two goals down to emerge 4-2 victors.

The England Under-21 striker was limited to four and eight minute run-outs from the bench during Sunderland’s opening two games of the season, with Ji Dong-won preferred in the starting line-up last night.

But after netting his first for Sunderland since January’s FA Cup third round clash at Bolton, Wickham hopes he has proved a point to Paolo Di Canio ahead of the weekend’s encounter at newly-promoted Palace.

Wickham told the Echo: “Of course, I realise I need to make the most of any opportunity I get.

“I was maybe disappointed that I wasn’t on from the start, but you have to quickly get your mind right and get in the mindset that if you’re called upon, you get into the game.

“Hopefully I’ve proved that I’ve got the confidence and ability to get into the team.

“I hope I’ve put my hand up for Saturday.

“The manager said go on and be strong, chase them down and score a goal and thankfully I got two.

“In every game, I just try to do my best and I want to show the manager that I’m capable and confident in my own ability.

“When I came on, the manager just said do what you can and it is difficult as a substitute.

“But you just have to run around and get yourself into the game and I managed to do that quite quickly.

“Thankfully we got the win in the end.”

Wickham insists he will claim Sunderland’s third goal, despite his shot taking a hefty deflection off MK Dons defender Ben Reeves which wrong-footed goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin.

That strike prompted a wave of relief at the Stadium of Light after Sunderland had been trailing 2-0 with just 12 minutes of normal time remaining.

But despite Sunderland’s struggles against the League One side, Wickham insists the most important factor is that Di Canio’s side remain in the competition, with the draw for the third round taking place tonight.

The 20-year-old added: “Of course, I’m claiming it. A goal is a goal!

“I’ll take any goal from a yard or 20 yards.

“We managed to come back and show the right team spirit.

“Maybe it wasn’t the performance that we’re capable of, but a win is a win and we just need to improve for the next game.

“The most important thing is we’re still in the hat.

“That was the aim before the game.

“The manager has said he wants us to improve our performances, but we’re always happy just to get a win.”