Wickham hails O'Neill after Sunderland first-team return

The England Under-21 international has praised his manager's advice after overcoming a difficult debut season at the club to break back into the 60-year-old's plans
Sunderland striker Connor Wickham has hailed the influence of manager Martin O'Neill after breaking back into the Black Cats' 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 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.

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"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 continued.

"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."