STEVE Bruce is ready to hand Connor Wickham his first Premier League start in Saturday’s high-stakes encounter at Bolton.
The Sunderland boss resisted the temptation to give England Under-21 striker Wickham his full debut in last weekend’s defeat at Arsenal despite on-loan Nicklas Bendtner being ineligible to face his parent club.
Former Ipswich frontman Wickham, 18, had only just returned to training after a groin injury, with Bruce opting instead to name Stephane Sessegnon as a lone striker.
Bendtner will go straight back into the starting line-up for this weekend’s trip to fellow strugglers Bolton, with just goal difference separating the third bottom Trotters from the Black Cats.
But the in-form Danish international is likely to be partnered in attack by £8million summer signing Wickham, with Sessegnon reverting to the flanks and Ahmed Elmohamady expected to drop to the bench.
Bruce said: “Sessegnon created three massive chances against Arsenal, but I just wonder whether he can get us the goals we need at the moment.
“I know he’ll create from the flanks so it’s in my thoughts to put someone else up front alongside Bendtner. It could be time for Connor.
“We’ve got to go to try to take the game to Bolton.
“They played 4-4-2 against Wigan last Saturday and we’ll do the same and go and see if we can win the game.
“There was a reason I didn’t play Ji or Connor against Arsenal. I thought with Ji coming back from Korea with all the travelling he’d done, it would have been unfair on him.
“Connor hadn’t trained for 10 days before taking part on the Thursday and Friday.
“I went with Sessegnon because I thought (Per) Mertesacker would struggle against him and he did.”
The inclusion of Bendtner and Wickham will force Bruce to decide between Jack Colback, Lee Cattermole and David Vaughan for the two spots in central midfield.
But the Sunderland boss also has a dilemma at the back, with Phil Bardsley returning from a four-match ban and vying to take Kieran Richardson’s spot at left-back.
“When you’ve got people available, you hope you can pick the right team,” added Bruce.
“As a manager, you are judged on making a decision that can get you a result.
“Kieran never gave (Theo) Walcott a kick last Sunday which is in my mind straightaway.
“He had a tough start to the season by his standards, but last weekend, you could see the value of his pace defensively.
“But I also know that Phil had a wonderful season for us last year. He’s a wonderful character and someone you’d like to have in the trenches with you. I’m well aware that I’ve got a decision to make.”