YOUNG PLAYER of the Season Connor Wickham hopes Premier League survival will go hand-in-hand with the title of North East top dogs.
Sunderland were six points behind rivals Newcastle United when they triumphed in last month’s Wear-Tyne derby, yet leapfrogged the Magpies last weekend, albeit only on goal difference.
We have to concentrate on staying up but if we finish above Newcastle we will do thatConnor Wickham
Both clubs remain in the thick of the relegation dogfight, only two points above third bottom Hull, with Sunderland targeting a victory against Leicester City this weekend which could rubber-stamp Premier League survival.
But if Sunderland can beat the drop, they also have the chance to finish above Newcastle, to add to their derby double over the Magpies this season. “They had a good run of five or six games earlier in the season, but they haven’t been very consistent apart from that,” said Wickham.
“If they hadn’t won those games, they would be in real trouble.
“We have to concentrate on staying up ourselves, obviously, but if we finish above Newcastle then we will do that.”
Wickham was crowned Young Player of the Season this week after winning the Sunderland Supporters’ Association vote, with midfielder Seb Larsson taking the main prize.
The 22-year-old is Sunderland’s joint top scorer with a modest six goals, but that tally indicates why the Black Cats have endured another season of struggle at the wrong end of the table.
But seven points from the last three games have vastly improved Sunderland’s survival hopes and Wickham is eager to complete the job with a win over Leicester on Saturday.
“It’s nice to pick up any award,” he added. “I think the awards are good individually for the players, but collectively, as a team perhaps, the season hasn’t gone as well as we expected and hoped.
“Now we need to adapt and focus on the task in hand, which is to stay in the Premier League.
“We know what we’ve got to do on Saturday and hopefully that will be enough to keep us up.
“It’s a must-win for both teams.
“We are at home, they are on a good run of form, but we know what we’re capable of and we have shown that over the last three or four weeks, and it has really come together over the last month or so.
“It’s not been easy, but we’ve showed the character and desire and quality in the squad we have to dig in and get the results when we really need them, and in doing so we have sucked a good few teams into the battle.
“Hopefully we can continue our form and stay up.”