STEVE Bruce took huge satisfaction from seeing Connor Wickham open his Sunderland account on Saturday.
But afterwards he begged fans and the media not to expect too much too soon from the 18-year-old England Under-21 international.
“It was a great strike from Connor with his left foot – his ‘wrong foot’,” enthused Bruce after a 2-2 Premier League draw with Aston Villa.
“He played against two centre-halves in Richard Dunne and James Collins who are players of great quality and two of the most experienced in the Premier League, but he showed what he’s capable of – and there are not many players scoring Premier League goals when they’re 18 years old.
“We’ve just been holding him back until he was ready.
“Connor is a far better player now than he was four months ago and he will get better still in the weeks ahead, so we’re very pleased with him.
“But we’ve got to be a bit patient with him because it will take time for him to develop into his full potential.
“He’s only 18, remember, and he’s playing first-team football in the Premier League.”
Both Wickham and strike partner Nicklas Bendtner tested and stretched Villa’s powerful central defensive pairing and Bruce says he’s relaxed about the club’s striker situation, despite the loss of record signings Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan this year.
“Clubs like ours, you need strikers who make a difference,” he admitted.
“Connor has proved with his finish that he might go on to be one of those.
“Nicklas Bendtner had a bad back against Villa and was struggling from half-time onwards, but I couldn’t take him off because of my substitutions.
“Already, though, he has shown that he’s going to be an important player for us.
“They’re both very big men with good first touches who are capable of playing football and there’s also Ji, who has got a goal for us already this season and he will have his part to play, too.
“It’s a long, long season and everyone will get their chance.”