Belfast Telegraph

Wickham: Deal was never in doubt

Connor Wickham has insisted his contractual situation was never a concern after committing his future to Sunderland.

The 21-year-old striker signed a new four-and-a half-year deal in December after months of speculation over his future, with head coach Gus Poyet fearing he could lose him for nothing, just as he did with midfielder Jack Colback last summer.

However, the England Under-21 international was always confident agreement would be reached to extend his stay at the Stadium of Light.

Wickham said: "The speculation never bothered me as much as what was made of it. People don't see what goes on behind closed doors, and it was never in doubt.

"I took criticism for how long it took, but that was the process. At least it's settled now and everyone knows what's happening. I've signed the contract and that's the end of that.

"Over a month, I sat with the gaffer a couple of times and he explained to me what he wanted me to do. We had a good chat for half-an-hour, 45 minutes, and we got a lot out in the open and we understood each other.

"Now I know what he wants from me, and that's made it a lot easier. He said to me way before the negotiations even started what he wanted me to do for this season. I was happy to do it then, I'm happy to do it now.

"The contract was just one of those things that came up between then and now."

For much of the current campaign, Wickham has been asked to fill a wide left midfield berth with the club having failed in its attempts to clinch a summer deal for Liverpool's Fabio Borini, who excelled in that role during last season's loan spell on Wearside.

There is little doubt he would prefer to line up through the middle - that responsibility is currently the preserve of Scotland international Steven Fletcher with Poyet largely operating a 4-1-4-1 system - but he is happy to do a job for the Uruguayan and the team.

Wickham said: "Obviously I want to play as high up the pitch as I can, and the role on the left involves some defending, which probably isn't the strongest bit of my game.

"But the gaffer wants me to do it, so that's what I've got to do. It's up to me to adapt to the way he wants me to play.

"The manager asked me before the start of the season whether I could play on the left. I did it at Ipswich for a whole season and it didn't seem the same as what it seems now.

"Full-backs push on and there is defending to do, but it is the fact that we need to score more goals and get forward in numbers as much as we can."

Poyet has made no secret of his desire to add goals to his squad during this month's transfer window - Fletcher, Wickham and Jozy Altidore have scored just eight between them so far this season - and that was a failing which might have come back to haunt the Barclays Premier League club once again on Sunday when they edged past by Sky Bet Championship Leeds 1-0, the same scoreline as that which famously separated the clubs in the 1973 final, into the FA Cup fourth round.

Returning full-back Patrick van Aanholt's 33rd-minute strike proved decisive on a day when chances went begging, and the Black Cats very nearly paid a heavy price when Leeds skipper Liam Cooper headed against the post in injury time.

Wickham said: "It wasn't easy, but it's not going to be against Leeds with the history of the two teams. But we'll take the win and we're into the next round.

"We did have chances and Pat scored a good goal. But in the second half, we let them get back in the game and they hit the post. We're happy to take the win though."

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