CONNOR WICKHAM could be back in contention for Sunderland’s crunch clash against Southampton this weekend.
The England Under-21 striker has been sidelined with a calf strain since sustaining the injury in Paolo Di Canio’s first game in charge at Chelsea last month.
But Wickham has been making progress in his rehabilitation and is an outside bet to be included in the squad for Sunday’s make-or-break visit of fellow relegation candidates Southampton.
If Wickham can return to fitness, it would represent a major boost to Sunderland head coach Di Canio, who has seen his forward options decimated by the injury to top scorer Steven Fletcher and suspension to Stephane Sessegnon, which has ruled both out of the relegation run-in.
With Craig Gardner also now banned for the remainder of the campaign, Sunderland will be without their three top scorers against the Saints.
Although Wickham has only netted once for Sunderland this season – in January’s FA Cup third round draw at Bolton – the 20-year-old would offer an orthodox option up front, either in support or as back-up to Danny Graham.
Academy youngster Mikael Mandron has been the only attacking alternative to Graham over the last four games, but Di Canio is wary of throwing the 18-year-old into the heat of a relegation battle.
Wickham would provide a much more viable and experience option, and the £8million man would also add an extra body to a squad which is growing more and more depleted.
Gardner’s red card against Stoke City on Monday night has removed him from the picture, while Seb Larsson underwent treatment after the game, although the Swedish midfielder is expected to be available for Sunday.
Danny Rose will play the final game of his loan spell against Southampton too, with the left-back ineligible to face parent club Spurs in Sunderland’s final game of the season.