MAN-OF-THE-MOMENT Connor Wickham insists Sunderland must now finish the job after ending their two-month stint in the relegation zone.
Wickham’s brace helped Sunderland to a crucial 4-0 victory against fellow strugglers Cardiff yesterday, as Gus Poyet’s side took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
Fourth-bottom Sunderland boast a game in hand and a superior goal difference to their three immediate drop rivals, with two victories from the final three matches realistically sufficient to guarantee the Black Cats extending their seven-year stay in the top flight.
But striker Wickham knows Sunderland must now complete the remarkable turnaround in their fortunes by registering those precious last few points which are required – starting with this Saturday’s trip to Manchester United.
Wickham told the Echo: “It’s massive to move out of the bottom three. We’ve worked hard and we’re starting to get what we deserve.
“We’re moving up the table and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.
“We’ve been to Manchester City and Chelsea, we’ve got to go to United next, so I don’t think we should fear them. There’s a determination among the lads and we’re confident.
“In the past few weeks, especially with Chelsea and City, we’ve been odds on to stay in the bottom three.
“But we’ve proved our doubters wrong; everyone wrong, that we’re not going to go down without a fight.
“There’s still a battle on, we can’t take our foot off the gas now.
“We’ve got to continue what we’ve been doing.
“But it was a good day for us yesterday and we just need to stay calm and keep doing what we have been doing.”
Wickham scored Sunderland’s opening and final goals in their biggest victory of the season, yet the 21-year-old was also involved in the game’s defining moment on the stroke of half-time.
Cardiff defender Juan Cala was caught in possession by Wickham and clearly tugged back the England Under-21 striker when he was clean through on goal.
After referee Phil Dowd allowed the advantage, the official brought the play back to award Sunderland a penalty and hand Cala his marching orders.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due,” said Wickham. “I think he’s made the right decision after pulling it back.
“I got in there, he pulled me back and I didn’t go down. I could have done, but I felt would have scored.
“I haven’t got him sent off, he pulled me back, but the referee has made the right decision in the end.”
Wickham’s double took his tally to five in three games, as Sunderland ended their two-month wait for a league win at the Stadium of Light.
“We’ve performed well, creating chances and thankfully I was there at the right place,” added the £8million man. “I get paid to score, so that’s what I need to do.
“If it helps the team, all the better. Obviously, in the previous games we haven’t beaten the teams around us, but it was important yesterday.
“We knew what we had to do and we got the first goal which was the most vital one of the game. That calmed us down and probably winded them a little bit.
“And from then on, we just took control, although the sending-off helped us a bit more.”