A SPARKLING cameo from Connor Wickham helped turn Sunderland’s FA Cup tie the Black Cats’ way at Bolton yesterday, writes Graeme Anderson.
And afterwards manager Martin O’Neill admitted that he will consider the prospect of pairing the powerful England Under-21 man with £12million striker Steven Fletcher in the future.
With Stephane Sessegnon missing out because of injury, Fletcher started as the lone striker.
But with Sunderland pressing in the second half to overturn a 2-0 deficit, Wickham came on just before the hour and was superb.
Afterwards, O’Neill mused: “That’s probably the first time Connor has been on the field with Steven Fletcher.
“And while it’s not as if you could make a judgment in the space of 35 minutes, it looks as though the two of them can play together.”
The manager admitted Sunderland were their own worst enemy in an uncharacteristically slapdash first half defensively.
“I thought it was going to be difficult at the start, but we certainly contributed to our potential downfall with our first goal.
“I thought we were really sloppy in the first half.
“We weren’t helped by conceding another goal straight after the break.
“But we kept at it and a proper cup tie came to the boil in the last 35 minutes and, roared on by our fans, we made the most of it and lived to fight another day.”
O’Neill was limited with what changes he could make for the cup game because of the limited size of his squad – and only had six subs on the bench.
But he said that he was determined to field his strongest team in a bid to give the fans the display they deserved it.
“We couldn’t change it much,” he pointed out.
“We’re really stretched and we’ve had a couple of injuries on top of that, but we will try to do something in the transfer window to address that.
“I don’t care how many games we’d played – five in 15 days or whatever – I wanted us to be in the competition.
“We had 5,000 fans spending their hard-earned money to support us and we had to serve up better than we did in the first half.
“Thankfully we’re still in it after a great game of football and we’ve got to look to continue staying in it.”
The replay will be at the Stadium of Light, probably on Tuesday, January 15.
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