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Wickham set to return to Sunderland as attacking problems mount
CONNOR Wickham will return to Wearside this week with Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill admitting he has been seriously short of attacking options in recent matches.
Wickham ended his month-long loan at Sheffield Wednesday in style on Saturday as he scored the only goal of the Owls' 1-0 win at Leicester City.
Both the England under-21 international and Wednesday boss Dave Jones have expressed a desire to extend the loan arrangement, but Sunderland's chronic lack of attacking options means the youngster will be instructed to return to Wearside ahead of this weekend's crucial Premier League home game with Norwich.
On Saturday, O'Neill was unable to name a striker on the bench as his side crashed to a 3-1 defeat at QPR, and the Black Cats boss admits he could do with some attacking alternatives as he attempts to guide Sunderland to safety in the final nine games of the season.
When asked whether his side was struggling from a lack of goal threat, O'Neill said: “If you analyse it, you may well be right. Even when we'd gone 2-1 behind, there was still enough time to grab an equaliser, but I don't think we put enough pressure on to try and do that because we haven't really got enough goalscorers in our team.
“We had a lot of defenders on the bench, but at the moment that's all we have. The only other option we've got is James McClean, but he was ill. He got let out of hospital around 11 o'clock on Saturday morning having spent the last two days on a drip.”
Given that Sunderland lost the services of Fraizer Campbell, Ji Dong-won, Luis Saha and James McFadden in January, it was somewhat surprising that O'Neill agreed to Wickham's departure.
The terms of the loan meant the striker could not be recalled until the deal had run its course, but the hope is that Wickham will have benefited from his time in the Championship.
Saturday's winner was his only goal in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt, but he has been pleased with his time at Hillsborough and had been hoping to remain in south Yorkshire in order to enhance his chances of regular football in the final two months of the season.
“I've really enjoyed myself, but it's down to the clubs now and what will be, will be,” said Wickham. “I've been playing games here and really enjoying myself, and the gaffer has a lot of faith in me. I've played a lot of football since I've been here and I'm thankful for that. A decision will be made, but I'm happy to be here.”
Be that as it may, Sunderland's pressing need for an increased goal threat will be the key factor in the decision, and Wickham is expected to be on the bench at the Stadium of Light when Norwich head north.
Last weekend's defeat to a resurgent QPR has enhanced the need for a positive result against the Canaries, with O'Neill admitting his side are back in the thick of the relegation battle following their fourth defeat in the last five games.
“At last week's press conference, we talked about the fact we were a couple of points off tenth, but had also been looking over our shoulder all season,” he said. “I would say that's the same for a number of clubs that are in what might be considered a reasonable position, and we're far from that.
“We've got some tough games coming up, but we knew that. It's a big game next week. We've got a number of home fixtures left and while they'll all be exceptionally hard, we have to try to get some more points on the board.”
The Black Cats remain seven points clear of QPR, but after Harry Redknapp splashed the cash in the January transfer window, O'Neill is willing to concede that the Premier League's bottom side boasts more talent than his own squad.
“That (spending so much money) was a risk they were prepared to take,” he said. “If it comes off, well done to the owner for doing that and putting himself out on a limb. It's given them a massive boost because they've got in some really good players.
“Let's be fair, they have a lot of talent at their disposal and we don't possess the same type of talent. Numerically speaking, we're also a wee bit down on the squad, but that's our problem, not anyone else's.”