CONNOR Wickham scored for England Under-21s last night to intensify the debate over whether he should be allowed out on loan or offered a chance in Sunderland’s first-team squad.
The 19-year-old swooped just before half-time in the game against Northern Ireland Under-21s, heading home ex-Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson’s free-kick to give his side a deserved lead.
Earlier, the forward had been unlucky to hit the woodwork in what proved to be a dominant display by Stuart Pearce’s men at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road – England having 21 shots on goal compared to Northern Ireland’s solitary effort.
U21s boss Pearce said: “He did well at Ipswich and obviously he got his move and then it has been a little bit start-stop for him at Sunderland.
“I always draw a comparison with Theo Walcott moving from Southampton to Arsenal.
“He is not playing regularly and we need to make sure we supplement his confidence and fitness, and that we get to see his ability on occasions at under-21 level.
“I think he showed that last night and he looks as though he is enjoying himself out there.
“I see his demeanour around the place and he is enjoying meeting up with us.”
Wickham’s goal, his second in consecutive Under 21 appearances, will only increase calls among supporters for him to be included in Sunderland’s goal-shy squad rather than allowed to leave on loan.
A host of Championship clubs have been interested this season in taking the teenager Steve Bruce signed from Ipswich Town for £8m in 2011 on loan.
And at the weekend news surfaced from Sheffield Wednesday that an agreement to take the youngster had all but been agreed for the striker to make a temporary move to Hillsborough.
So far, though, there has been no confirmation that a loan move is in the offing.
Wickham has made only one appearance for Sunderland so far this season, coming on as an 89th minute substitute for Jack Colback in the 2-1 defeat to Everton at the weekend.
And many Sunderland fans have been calling for him to be more involved in a goal-starved first team, especially with him having scored several times for Kevin Ball’s Under 21 development side in the last few months.
It was also a good night for Wickham’s Sunderland team-mate Jordan Pickford, who kept a clean sheet for England Under-19s in a 1-0 win over Finland.