Charlie Wyke discusses his key chats with Phil Parkinson as he opens up on Sunderland role and form
By his own admission, Charlie Wyke’s Sunderland career has been stop-start.
He arrived with an injury and was never quite able to recover that lost momentum in his first season at the club.
The arrival of Phil Parkinson, a manager who had tried to sign him at Bolton Wanderers, looked like it could be an important moment for the 27-year-old.
That only heightened the frustration when he suffered another injury barely 30 minutes into the new manager’s tenure at Wycombe Wanderers.
Now, things are beginning to change.
Remarkably, the emphatic win over Bristol Rovers marked Wyke’s 14th consecutive start in League One for Sunderland.
Four goals in that time means there has been plenty of debate over what is a crucial role in the side, but what has been abundantly clear is that this is a player with the absolute trust of his manager.
It's a matter Parkinson has discussed regularly and his message has never wavered.
He has gone out of his way to praise Wyke for his discipline and work ethic out of possession. Particularly at the Stadium of Light, he is charged with leading the press and creating space for the attacking players alongside him.
His running statistics are conistently excellent and it is clear Parkinson sees him as something of an unsung hero, and Wyke is benefiting both from that trust, and a significant level of tactical instruction that leaves him in absolutely no doubt as to what his role in the side is.
“I've been in the office a few times with the gaffer and we've looked at how he wants me to play and where he wants me to be,” Wyke explained.
“Obviously I haven't scored as many as I would have liked but I think I'm working hard off the ball and the shape of the team is working really well for us.
“I need to drop in and sit on the centre midfielders sometimes.
“It is hard work and different to what I've been used to, but I'm really enjoying it and I've just got to keep doing.
“You can't play well every week, but I know the gaffer likes me as a player and I've just got to keep adding something for the team.
“I think the front free are playing well together but even when someone else comes on, everyone knows what we need to do and it's really enjoyable.”
Both, though, know that goals are the key currency.
Sunderland need more and assistant Steve Parkin recently spoke of the attacking sides of Wyke’s game the coaching staff are trying to develop.
They want him to run in behind more and get across defneders in the box, something they feel he is capable of doing.
To that end, Saturday’s strike was a tonic.
Bristol Rovers boss Ben Garner was furious with the goal, adamant that play should have been stopped after his two centre-halves clashed heads near the halfway line.
For Sunderland, though, it was a boost see Wyke seize his moment with composure.
“It was a great feeling to score and obviously a great result,” he said.
“Those ones [where you have so much time to think] are not nice.
“I looked back and had the whole half to myself.
“I had a lot of time and he's a big lad as well the keeper, so I thought if I don't knock it far enough, he might be able to hook it away, but thankfully I got it round him.”
It was a buoyant second half for Sunderland, Parkinson serenaded by the Roker End as the promotion surge continued.
“We're doing well at home and picking up wins away, so long may it continue,” Wyke said.
“We all said when we were having that bad spell that we were right behind the gaffer, he's been fantastic with us and I'm glad things have changed. We're playing good football and getting results.
“No matter what, I'll always give everything.
“I was glad to get a goal and hopefully I'll grab a few more between now and the end of the season.
“Everyone is playing well, for each other, we're a team and we're all enjoying it.
“We've got a good squad and you can see that from the lads coming off the bench and doing well.”
Sunderland are in a good place and though he knows his team need more goals from him, Wyke perhaps embodies that as well as anyone.
He is one of a number of players currently benefiting from the structure of the team and the conditioning behind the scenes.
“I just think we've got a shape,” he said.
“In training we get drilled into us what we need to do and we look at the opposition a lot.
“He just drills into it what we need to do and how hard we need to work.
“I think we're a lot fitter now and it's showing on the pitch.
“Since I've been here it's been stop-start but this has been my longest run of starts.
“I'm enjoying my football, I feel as fit as I have for a few years and hopefully it will continue.”
With at least twelve games still to go, Wyke will continue to come under pressure for his spot from Kyle Lafferty as he build his fitness.
For now, though, the jersey is very much his to lose and even as the debate continues, it does not look likely to go anywhere else anytime soon.