CRAIG GARDNER insists Sunderland’s fringe players must play their part in ensuring Sunderland’s festive programme doesn’t end with a whimper, writes Chris Young.
Sunderland face their fifth game in 15 days at Bolton tomorrow, with fatigue taking its toll in back-to-back defeats against Spurs and Liverpool.
Martin O’Neill has opted not to rotate his side during the hectic period, with nine of the team starting all four games and the only changes enforced upon the Sunderland manager.
But with the quest for points in the Premier League relegation battle temporarily put on hold this weekend, O’Neill may opt to make changes for the FA Cup third round clash at the Reebok Stadium, with the likes of David Vaughan, Fraizer Campbell, Connor Wickham and Titus Bramble all in contention.
All of those have made appearances from the bench over the Christmas period and Gardner says Sunderland need a contribution from everyone to avoid a potential banana skin.
“The games come thick and fast over Christmas and you have to cope with it,” said Gardner.
“Everybody has been used to some degree during this period.
“We’ve not got the biggest squad and that’s why we all need to stay together, with everyone playing their part.”
Wickham has made the biggest impression among Sunderland’s fringe men, even though the 19-year-old was left on the bench for Wednesday night’s defeat at Liverpool.
The £8million frontman, who could replace injury doubt Stephane Sessegnon alongside Steven Fletcher, has made clear progress since coming under the tutelage of Sunderland skills coach Steve Guppy.
And Gardner stresses that it was inevitably going to take Wickham time to find his feet in the Premier League after the England Under-21 striker was just 17 when he moved to the Stadium of Light 18 months ago.
“Connor’s been working so hard on his game,” added Gardner.
“Gupps has had him in every single day working on his turning, finishing and pace.
“He’s been working so hard and now he’s getting his rewards.
“All credit to him because he’s a top lad and a top player.
“He’s still only 19 too. He’s still got 15 years ahead of him.
“He’s going in the right direction and we need him to keep performing like that.”