CONNOR Wickham’s stunning five-goal burst, which pulled Sunderland back from the brink of seemingly inevitable relegation, has earned him the Barclays Player of the Month award for April.
The 21-year-old has been a revelation both in terms of his goals and his build-up play since his recall from a loan spell at Leeds United in mid-March.
Handed a start against Everton in the wake of Sunderland’s 5-1 thrashing at Tottenham, he sparkled in an excellent home performance at the Stadium of Light which was unlucky to end in defeat.
At that point, Sunderland were seven points adrift of safety with arguably the two hardest away trips of the season coming up, against title-chasing Manchester City and Chelsea.
Sunderland seemed doomed but they produced wonderful performances at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge, with Wickham Sunderland’s man-of-the-match in both.
He scored both the Black Cats’ goals in the 2-2 draw against City, with Sunderland just a couple of minutes away from securing all three points.
And he followed that up by scoring Sunderland’s opener, bringing the Wearsiders back into the game in the 2-1 win over Chelsea.
Arguably even more impressive was his display against Cardiff City last weekend when he scored Sunderland’s first and last goals in the 4-0 win over the Bluebirds and was heavily involved in the other two.
Those contributions have played an enormous part in the Wearsiders taking seven points from their last nine and, in the process, Gus Poyet’s men have gone from rock bottom to out of the relegation zone in less than a fortnight.
Such has been the transformation in Wickham and the quality of his displays – he is the only player to score against both Chelsea and Manchester City on their home soil this season – that there has even been speculation that a similarly storming end to the season could set the England Under-21 international on his way to senior international honours.
That elevation might come too late for any involvement in this summer’s World Cup, but Wickham feels he has done enough to say that he has arrived in the Premier League.
“I always felt confident that I could do it if I was given a chance, if I was given a run in the side,” he told the Echo.
“The great thing is that I’ve been given an opportunity and I’ve taken it – it has come good.
“I don’t want to say I’m there yet, because I’ve only just started, but I feel as I can keep on proving myself at this level now.
“The main thing at the moment is that we keep our good form going.
“The last few weeks have been great, but we need to finish it off now and make sure Sunderland are playing in the Premier League again next season.”
Wickham is the second Sunderland player to win the Barclays’ Player of the Month award, following in the footsteps of winger Adam Johnson, who won the award for January.
For a team outside the top four to win a couple of Premier League Player of the Month awards in one season is no mean achievement.
For it to be done by a team that has spent almost the entire season in the bottom three, is remarkable.
* Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis has been named Barclays Manager of the Month for April after leading the Eagles to four wins out of five Barclays Premier League matches during the month to move up to 11th place.
* Don’t miss the top report and reaction from Manchester United-Sunderland tomorrow, plus the biggest and best coverage of SAFC and local football, in the online Football Echo. It’s available on this website from around 6.45pm tomorrow.