CONNOR Wickham admits it gave him a “massive boost” to earn the instant backing of Martin O’Neill.
Wickham was thrust into the starting line-up for O’Neill’s first game in charge last month despite returning to training just two days earlier following five weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Although the 18-year-old suffered a relapse at Spurs, Wickham is back in O’Neill’s thoughts again after making his comeback as a substitute at Chelsea last weekend.
O’Neill was linked with a move for the then 16-year-old Ipswich striker when the Sunderland boss was in charge at Aston Villa.
And now that the duo are finally working together at the Stadium of Light, Wickham insists O’Neill is living up to expectations.
Wickham said: “It gave me a massive boost in confidence to get thrown straight in against Blackburn.
“I felt I was ready. I only had a couple of days of training, but I’d been running for a week before that so I felt fit and right.
“It was just a matter of getting time on the pitch. The manager did that and hopefully I can get more. I feel I can come back now and be ready to play.
“He’s (O’Neill) just come in and brought a new sense of life to the team and the place.
“Everyone is confident and everyone has got a fair shot.
“You can see the delight he has got for the team and the passion when we score goals – he’s jumping in the air.
“It’s brought the team closer to know the manager is so passionate about the game.
“His man-management is brilliant. He’s spoken to me a couple of times and it’s encouraging for the players to know they have such a close bond with the manager.
“I think he knew a bit about me from Aston Villa when the speculation was going around. Whether he wanted me or not, I don’t know.
“But I’ve got to do my best to show him what I’m capable of.”
Summer signing Wickham had just begun to make his mark for Sunderland when he suffered knee ligament damage inside 90 seconds on only his third Premier League start at Manchester United, in November.
But the £8million man insists the lay-off has not affected his self-belief and is keen to play his part in Sunderland’s resurgence under O’Neill.
Wickham added: “It’s exciting. The team’s on a good run and unfortunately I’ve been injured on and off for the last couple of months.
“But to be back in training and around the lads with the buzz we’ve got now is brilliant.
“I’m over the injuries now, back training and fighting fit and strong.
“I was always confident that I would get back in.
“I’ve never worried. We’ve got the best facilities around here and I’ve got the best people looking after me.
“I’ve had worse injuries than this before and I’ve come back fitter and stronger.”