Connor Wickham backed to continue his climb to the top

The Sunderland sqaud at their pre-season training camp at the Sporthotel Fuchsbachtal in Barsinghausen in Germany
The Sunderland sqaud at their pre-season training camp at the Sporthotel Fuchsbachtal in Barsinghausen in Germany
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JACK Colback expects ex-Ipswich team-mate Connor Wickham to continue his rapid progress – two years after first lining up alongside the teenage striker.

Colback was in the Tractors Boys’ side on the night Wickham made his first senior start, as the then 16-year-old striker notched a brace in a Carling Cup first round draw at Shrewsbury in August, 2009.

During two loan spells at Ipswich, Colback saw Wickham’s game develop, with Sunderland splashing out an initial outlay of £8million to bring the England U21 man to Wearside.

Midfielder Colback is confident the towering Wickham will make a big impression for the Black Cats after the 18-year-old made his first Sunderland appearance in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Arminia Bielefeld.

“I think he’s made a lot of progress since I first saw him,” Colback told the Echo.

“Pardon the pun, but he’s grown as a player and he’s matured a lot too.

“That comes from playing games at a high level competitively. I know that myself. Playing for Ipswich at such a young age will have done him the world of good.

“He seems to be settling in fine and he adds another presence to the team.

“You can see what he gives at 6ft 3in, when he’s only 18. He gives you that outlet ball but he’s also very good on the ball and I think he’ll get goals if he plays.

“He’s deceptively quick too. He’s very powerful and adds a lot to the team.”

Sunderland scrapped their way to a draw with Third Division Bielefeld, but will need to raise their game in the remaining two encounters here in Germany.

Bruce’s men face Bundesliga duo Borussia Monchengladbach and Hannover 96 with tomorrow’s clash against the latter pitting Sunderland against a side who finished fourth in the German top flight last season.

But Colback, who played the final 30 minutes against Bielefeld after lasting the full game against York four days earlier, believes Sunderland need to test themselves against quality opposition during pre-season.

The 21-year-old said: “We’re just lacking a bit of match sharpness at the minute which you can only get through playing games. That will come.

“It’s been tough since we’ve been back, that’s just part and parcel of pre-season.

“It’s always going to be hard to get your fitness back up after a month off. But it’s good to be playing games now and we’ve got another two games coming up and we’ll look forward to them.

“These next two games will be much tougher. The standard over here is very high.

“We played Hoffenheim last year and they were very good, but these are the tests you need in pre-season.

“There’s no point playing only lower league teams. You need to be competing against teams who will be similar to those you’ll face in the Premier League.

“Hopefully I can play a bit more on the rest of this trip and when we get back as well, to get into the manager’s plans.”