CONNOR WICKHAM wants to establish himself in Sunderland’s first team at the third time of asking this season.
Wickham has started just eight Premier League games for the Black Cats since arriving at the Stadium of Light in an £8million move from Ipswich in the summer of 2011.
As he prepares to begin his third campaign at Sunderland, the England Under-21 striker knows he needs to play a more prominent first-team role to add to his tally of one Premier League goal and one FA Cup goal in red and white.
There is no shortage of interest in the 20-year-old from the Championship, with Sheffield Wednesday among the hopefuls looking to take him on loan after he spent a month with the Owls last season.
Wickham faces a fierce fight for game-time on Wearside too, with Jozy Altidore, Steven Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Ji Dong-won battling alongside him for the two places up front.
But Wickham wants to impress Paolo Di Canio on the training field and prove he can make the grade with the Black Cats.
Wickham told the Echo: “Obviously the main aim for the season is to try to establish myself in the first-team this year.
“There’s good competition up front because we’ve got a number of good strikers at the club now.
“But hopefully I can just get my head down, work as hard as I can and make sure I do everything right personally.
“Hopefully then, the manager will recognise it.”
Wickham played a more prominent role for the England U21s than Sunderland last season and was part of Stuart Pearce’s squad that failed to emerge from the qualifying group at the summer’s European Championships.
The frontman enjoyed just a fortnight’s holiday after the Euro’s before he returned to the Academy of Light for the start of Sunderland’s pre-season training.
But Wickham has no complaints at the length of his summer rest, insisting it has allowed him to stay in good condition for what has been a testing pre-season for Sunderland’s players.
“I didn’t have much of a summer break,” added Wickham. “But I just want to play football.
“You do get bored when you’re away for too long, so it was just down to me to come back fit and I was.
“Hopefully, I’ll start becoming fitter and stronger, and I can start getting more minutes with the manager starting to use me.”