BY RIGHTS, the Korean hacks who have followed Sunderland religiously this season should have had a grand tale for the folks back in Seoul.
Ji Dong-won arguably deserved a starting berth ahead of fellow summer arrival of Connor Wickham at the Reebok on Saturday after making more of an impact from the substitutes’ bench – grabbing a late consolation at Chelsea and having an Emirates equaliser chalked off for offside.
By contrast, Wickham had looked overawed at being dragged away from the comfort zone of Portman Road and thrust into the demanding spotlight of Wearside, where his tender years couldn’t mask the expectations of an £8million outlay.
For all the good things Wickham had done in his seven cameos from the bench, the 18-year-old equally produced signs of the naivity of youth, most notably shutting his eyes with the goal at his mercy at a hostile Carrow Road.
Yet the events of a matchday only tell part of the story.
Wickham has been impressing Bruce on the training fields of the Academy of Light and the England U21 international’s decision to join Sunderland amid interest from Spurs and Liverpool was justified with his first top-flight start.
Bruce said: “He’s only 18, he’s young enough to be playing in our youth team and we’ve wanted to give him a chance to get used to the Premier League before plunging him straight into it.
“He’s been with us for three months and we can see the improvement in him as a player from just watching him come on in that time.”
It was in some ways a risky decision from Bruce, given Saturday’s encounter was as close to a “must-win” game as you can get at this tender stage of the campaign.
But the under-fire Sunderland boss had to chance his arm on an offensive line-up to test Bolton’s home fragility, while there was also a sense of justifying spending the bulk of the summer’s budget on a player who had been restricted to a bit-part role.
The calculated gamble paid off as the benefits of being a starter rather than a sub saw Wickham show the travelling hordes why so many scouts had flocked to Ipswich over the previous two years.
READ the full verdict in Monday’s Echo