FREDERICIA, DENMARK - JUNE 09: Connor Wickham walks back to the dressing room after picking up an injury during the England under 21's training session at Monjasa Park stadium on June 9, 2011 in Fredericia, Denmark. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Sunderland's lingering search for a new striker may be frustrating fans but for Connor Wickham it represents a huge opportunity. The former Ipswich man has endured a frustrating spell on Wearside since his big-money move last summer, with suggestions in some quarters that Martin O'Neill was ready to send him out on loan next term.
That may still be a possibility, but in the meantime Wickham knows that he finds himself in a good position to make an impression as a Sunderland squad light of forward talent heads into their pre-season programme.
Wickham told the Official Site:
There's an opportunity there with Nicklas [Bendtner] leaving. Everyone is fighting for a place in the starting XI. Nick's gone and there's only a few strikers out here [with the squad in Korea], so, for me, it's a good chance to maybe score a few goals.
There was also a suggestion, as many suspected at the time, that Wickham struggled for fitness last season after being stretchered off at Old Trafford. He returned to the side much earlier than expected to spearhead the attack in Martin O'Neill's first game in charge against Blackburn in December, but never quite looked up to speed again.
As much as I can. I just want to cement my place and show the manager that I can start games. Last season wasn't really my best season and I didn't play a lot of football. But this pre-season I've come back fit and I feel good, I feel stronger.
Considering the hefty fee involved, Wickham was always going to come under heavy scrutiny. The expectation was there from the start and, by the player's own admission, he didn't deliver.
But prior to that injury at Manchester United he certainly impressed. He was a constant menace at the Reebok against Bolton, before capping off another impressive outing against Aston Villa a week later with a goal that simply dripped in quality, so he isn't one anyone should be writing off quite yet.
Despite the hype of the transfer and the fee, it is easy to forget that the player is still in the same age-group as the likes of Louis Laing, Billy Knott, John Egan, Blair Adams, and the rest of the youngsters fans are excited about without burdening them with expectation.
Lets hope Wickham is really on the cusp of a breakout season, because if he can start delivering some of his obvious promise and hit the ground running next season, the on-going striker summer search search may just start looking a lot less desperate.