CONNOR Wickham believes Dick Advocaat has installed some “grit” in Sunderland’s ranks to arrest the slide towards the Championship.
Sunderland’s survival bid remains in its infancy, despite the Black Cats earning a crucial second Premier League victory of 2015 in last weekend’s Wear-Tyne derby.
He’s made his opinions very clear, what he wants us to do and how he wants us to play.Connor Wickham
The position of Advocaat’s men is still precarious, with only three points separating them from the drop zone, plus Sunderland ominously suffering defeats in the following game after three of their previous four derby victories.
But Sunderland’s confidence has been boosted by their success against Newcastle and striker Wickham believes new boss Advocaat has made a notable difference to both the mentality and organisation of the side.
“It was important for us to win last weekend, especially against our local rivals,” said Wickham.
“But since the new manager has come in, he has given a good vibe for the boys to feed off.
“Training has been good and we’ve performed well in the two games we’ve had.
“He’s made his opinions very clear, what he wants us to do and how he wants us to play.
“You can see it coming together. We’ve got the win now, played well against West Ham and we’ve got a formation and shape.
“There’s a bit of grit about us.
“Of course you look at the table, and I think most of us know where we are and how tight it is with the points.
“But we’re not looking down, we’re looking at who we can catch and suck in – put them in the fight instead of us.”
While Wickham talks of looking up, rather than down, Sunderland are realistically not going to be able to catch Saturday’s opponents Crystal Palace, as their rejuvenation continues under ex-Newcastle boss Alan Pardew.
Palace’s win over reigning Premier League champions Manchester City earlier this week, was their fourth victory in five – a run that has taken them to the coat-tails of the top 10.
It’s been some transformation of a side who lay below Sunderland in the thick of the relegation dogfight for much of the first half of the season.
But Sunderland won at Selhurst Park in November to end their week-long stint in the bottom three – the only time they have spent there last season – and Wickham believes the derby can prove to be a springboard this time around, rather than a false dawn.
“November’s game was a massive one for us,” added Wickham.
“It’s not easy to go there for a night game, but Fletch’s goals (Steven Fletcher) saved us that night.
“These next few weeks are going to be important for us.
“Obviously there’s two difficult games at the end of the season (Chelsea and Arsenal) but we’ve got games now where we can pick up points.
“We’ve put ourselves in good stead and set ourselves up on the back of a good win.
“Of course it will be difficult, Palace are a good team, but I think we can hold out and use our fans.”