KEVIN BALL is pleased to see Connor Wickham contributing for Sunderland Under-21s after finding first-team opportunities hard to come by.
With new signing James McFadden left out of the second string victory over Aston Villa yesterday due to a hamstring strain sustained in the morning, Wickham and fellow rookie frontman Ji Dong-won were the big names on show for the Black Cats at the Academy of Light.
And Wickham, who is yet to make a first-team appearance this season, took his chance with his second brace of the campaign for the U21s after notching a double at Newcastle in September.
Development coach Ball told the Echo: “People forget Connor’s only 19 and it’s good for our lads to see what he can do when he drops down and plays.
“It’s important that he contributes and it’s nice when he gets his just rewards with two goals.
“The manager yesterday suggested about Ji and Connor playing and it was a good idea because it’s nice for them to get some minutes.”
Wickham’s first-half double secured a 2-0 lead in a dominant first half for Sunderland, before Villa enjoyed more possession after the break. Ball felt his side should have showed more ruthlessness in front of goal to forge a more emphatic victory, although he suspects Monday’s friendly win over Newcastle took its toll on his players.
“We have to give the lads a lot of credit, but we had enough chances to put the game beyond any reasonable doubt,” added Ball.
“In the first half especially, I thought we created numerous chances.
“We were 2-0 up, deservedly so, but then we had a lot more chances that we had to be clinical with.
“However, in the second half, I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit. But I wonder whether the game on Monday didn’t help in terms of lads being a bit tired.
“Villa had the better of the second half, but not in the sense of creating chances.
“You’ve still got to win the game without conceding and fair play to the goalkeeper (Jordan Pickford) because I thought his handling was excellent.”