Wednesday 21 March 2018

Wickham not thinking about survival

Connor Wickham is not even considering another relegation dogfight
Connor Wickham is not even considering another relegation dogfight

Sunderland striker Connor Wickham insists another fight for Barclays Premier League survival has never crossed his mind.

The 21-year-old scored his fourth goal of the season in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Burnley which hauled the Black Cats into 14th place and four points clear of the drop zone.

It was their first win in the league in six attempts since December 21 and just their second of the season at the Stadium of Light.

However, Wickham, whose five goals in three games at the end of last season provided the platform for the club's unlikely great escape, has never even considered the prospect of having to produce a similar fightback this time around.

He said: "You can never guarantee you are safe - you just have to look at last season. We were seven points adrift and then we managed to avoid it. I don't think anybody can guarantee safety until it's mathematical, so we are not even thinking about that.

"Obviously the aim is to stay in the Premier League and do the best we can, but I don't think - well, for me personally, relegation has never crossed my mind, so it shouldn't for the team either."

Head coach Gus Poyet, despite his delight at a performance and result which answered his pre-match challenge to make the game a turning point in a difficult season, was swift to warn his team they had done little more than start a process which needs to continue over the weeks and months ahead.

However, the manner in which victory was achieved will have come as a welcome relief as his efforts to find a system in which new signing Jermain Defoe could prosper finally paid dividends.

Having abandoned the three-man defence he had employed in the previous two fixtures, he opted for a system which allowed Wickham to support Defoe and full-backs Anthony Reveillere and Patrick van Aanholt to get forward, and that proved to be Burnley's undoing.

Wickham headed home Reveillere's 20th-minute cross to open the scoring and when Defoe slid home Van Aanholt's pull-back 14 minutes later for his first Sunderland goal, the points were secure.

The former Ipswich frontman said: "We played well as a team and we looked comfortable. I have not had much of a chance to play in a game situation with Jermain. On Saturday, we got the opportunity and we both managed to score, which is good."

It was not a good day, however, for the Clarets, who left Wearside sitting just one place and a single point above the relegation zone.

They were poor in the first half, although Ashley Barnes might have headed them into an early lead, and while they rallied after the break, they never really looked like rescuing the situation.

Manager Sean Dyche said: "That is life in the Premier League. We have been learning, we are improving, I am sure of that, over the season. We are still on good shape.

"I always remind you people thought we would need snookers at Christmas and we didn't, and we are still active.

"It's a learning curve for these players on a weekly basis and it's another big reminder that you have to be on top of your game for every minute, certainly when you are us. We can't come away from our performance levels and we had too many down.

"At any level of football, it's improbable that every player on your team plays at the top level of their performance every week. But we can't carry threes and fours if they are not on their levels.

"Others can. If you are Chelsea, maybe Arsenal, Manchester United et cetera, if they have three or four players who are well below par, they can still carry that. We need everyone at it all of the time."

Press Association

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