Sunderland striker Connor Wickham has praised the influence of manager Martin O’Neill after breaking back into the first team.
The England under-21 international endured an unconvincing start to life at the Stadium of Light following a move from Ipswich, scoring just once in 16 Premier League appearances.
However, an injury to Steven Fletcher during Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich allowed the 19-year-old to make an appearance as a half-time substitute.
And he was delighted to be afforded the opportunity, telling the club’s official website: “It’s been a long four or five months for me and it was great to be on the pitch.
“I’ve spoken to the gaffer (manager, O’Neill) before and he told me what I had to do, so I have worked my socks off in training and thankfully he had faith in me today.
“The manager has told me to hold the ball up and be more aggressive, and I’ve been doing that more in training and that’s why my chance came. When I came on I thought I did that; now it’s about getting that match sharpness.”
Wickham has now set his sights on establishing himself as a first-team regular in Fletcher’s absence and hopes to avoid a repeat of past disappointments.
“I was hungry for more after my first appearance of the season (against Everton) but after that I was left out a couple of times,” he said.
“That spurred me on to get my head down even more and work even harder. It’s been a rollercoaster but hopefully this is the start of my season.”