Sunderland coach Oatway hails Wickham hunger

Connor Wickham.

Connor Wickham.

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BIRTHDAY BOY Connor Wickham should be applauded for wanting to head out on loan, rather than stagnating on the fringes at Sunderland, says first-team coach Charlie Oatway.

Wickham, who turns 21 today, has enjoyed two spells in the Championship this season – at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United – where his total of starts was more than he has made in the Premier League during almost three years at Sunderland.

Successive Sunderland managers have raised question marks over Wickham – including Gus Poyet himself – and his contribution on the training field, despite the club shelling out £8million in the summer of 2011 when he was just 17.

But instead of being content with a bit-part role at the Stadium of Light after returning from Wednesday in January, Wickham was proactive in asking Poyet whether he could go out again on loan last month, with Leeds eventually beating off competition from five other clubs for the England Under-21 international.

Oatway has been impressed by that attitude and Wickham’s determination now to make the most of his chance on Wearside after Sunderland recalled him last week in a bid to end their goal-scoring woes.

“What I liked about him is that he wasn’t in the squad a couple of times and he went and asked if he could go out on loan,” he told the Echo.

“I don’t know if it’s rare for players to ask to go out on loan these days, but it isn’t as common as it used to be.

“Gus accepted that.

He wanted to go and play football.

“So you’re hoping that all of these little bits add fuel to his fire, hopefully give him a little bit more education about football and life, and hold him in good stead.

“That’s why we brought him back and he walked straight back onto the training pitch, and at Anfield, and gave a good account of himself.”

Poyet indicated after last week’s defeat at Liverpool that Wickham, who was handed only his 10th Premier League start for Sunderland, would be given another chance in the side in tonight’s clash against West Ham to make his mark.

The frontman could be partnered by Fabio Borini, with the on-loan Italian bidding to take the place of American striker Jozy Altidore after he was ineligible to face parent club Liverpool last midweek.

And Oatway says Sunderland won’t know until Wickham is given a sustained chance in the starting XI whether the physically-imposing former Ipswich Town man can make good on his potential.

“I think he’s got the shell, as you would say, of being a very good player,” added former Brighton coach Oatway.

“But as everyone has said, only time is going to tell with that.

“He’s been very good so far and, fingers crossed, he’ll come back all guns blazing.”