FORMER Sunderland striker Nick Sharkey believes Martin O’Neill must experiment with Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham as a front pair.
Fletcher and Wickham are yet to appear together for the Black Cats, albeit the former’s injuries over recent weeks have reduced their chances of working in tandem.
Sunderland boss O’Neill has generally favoured a lone striker in his year in charge at the Stadium of Light, with Stephane Sessegnon operating in the hole behind the frontman.
But O’Neill’s two orthodox strikers are both in form, with seven-goal Fletcher topping Sunderland’s scoring charts and Wickham demonstrating his improvement in all three of his outings this month.
Sharkey, who spent eight years at Roker Park between 1959 and 1967, is confident the pair can work together, with Sessegnon remaining in his deep-lying role.
“Fletcher’s a really good player and I like to see strikers like that,” Sharkey told the Echo.
“It was money well spent. There were a lot of doubters, but when he was playing for Wolves, he was always there.
“The only problem is you need someone alongside him. That’s my opinion.
“Sessegnon’s a good player, but he’s not an out-and-out striker.
“Personally, I would play Sessegnon behind a front two and I’d persevere with the young boy Wickham alongside Fletcher.
“You only improve from playing games. You can’t improve if you’re sitting watching them or playing five or 10 minutes as a substitute.
“The other thing about the kid is he’s 6ft 4in. Niall Quinn used to head balls on to Kevin Phillips and that’s the sort of thing you’ve got to think about.
“He doesn’t have to be quick, just use his bulk in the box.”
Sharkey insists Sunderland must also banish the trait of giving opposition sides head starts if they are to move away from the relegation zone.
The fifth-bottom Black Cats have taken the lead in just one of their last six games and found themselves 3-0 down against both Chelsea and Manchester United before threatening the title contenders.
“The season’s been a bit disappointing,” added Sharkey, the only living Sunderland player to have scored five goals in a single game.
“I saw the Chelsea game and we’re giving teams too much head start.
“The second half of that game, Chelsea were rattled and it was the same at Man U and against West Brom.
“Once they’re 2-0 up and running, it’s too much to claw back.”
* A CAST of Sunderland greats gathered at the Stadium of Light last night to sign copies of a new definitive work on the club.
FA Cup heroes Bobby Kerr and Dick Malone joined 1960s heroes Colin Suggett and Nick Sharkey, along with more modern stars Gary Bennett and Gordon Armstrong, at a signing session for Sunderland: The Complete Record.
The hardback book, expanded from the 2005 original, has been penned by club historian Rob Mason along with fellow authors Mike Gibson and Barry Jackson and chronicles every aspect of Sunderland’s history.
There are records of every player, manager and chairman, every game played since the club was founded in 1879, even every international played by players on Sunderland’s books.
The book is out now, priced at £25, although it is on offer now for £20 in the club’s stores.