Wickham: Strikers are firing blanks
Connor Wickham has admitted Sunderland's misfiring strikers deserve the criticism they are getting.
The Black Cats have managed only 23 goals in their 28 Barclays Premier League fixtures to date this season, a return which has left them perched perilously close to the relegation zone as the season reaches crunch-point.
Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that Gus Poyet's pool of frontmen has contributed just nine of those goals, a record Wickham knows simply has to improve if they are to avoid a second successive scramble for top-flight survival.
Wickham told the Northern Echo: "I wouldn't say the criticism of the strikers is unfair.
"Strikers are going to get the most at any club because they are the money-makers, they are the ones that the fans are relying on to score the goals. That's where the criticism can come.
"Chances come and you do need to put them away. We are creating chances. The way we set up, we are setting up to attack at times when we get the ball. We do try to break as quickly as we can when we get the ball.
"We have done it in games but we have to get more consistent with it and get in to the box more. We will climb away from the rest of the group down there if we can start to put our chances away."
Scotland international Steven Fletcher is currently leading the way for the strikers with four goals - the same number as midfielder Adam Johnson - with Wickham having managed three and January arrival Jermain Defoe two.
Danny Graham is yet to score for the club, while Jozy Altidore, who left the Stadium of Light for Toronto in an exchange deal with Defoe in January, did so having found the back of the net just three times in 52 appearances in all competitions.
Sunderland face Aston Villa - the only Premier League club to have scored fewer goals with just 15 to date - at the Stadium of Light on Saturday with three points crucial for both sides.
Villa, who ended a run of seven league defeats on the trot with a 2-1 home victory over derby rivals West Brom on March 3, currently sit three points clear of the bottom three with their hosts a point better off.