It was only two weeks ago that almost everyone thought Sunderland were certain to finish in the bottom three, but now many expect them to stay up. There was an element of shock about their draw against Manchester City and their victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, becoming the first side to defeat a Jose Mourinho Chelsea side there.
These were huge results, but Sunderland have always had a habit of beating the top sides, beating Manchester City at the Stadium of Light in the past four campaigns. It is in matches against sides in the bottom half that they struggle, this may be due to the level of expectation on them. Sunderland have struggled to score goals this season, but the emergence of Connor Wickham in recent weeks has been magnificent and his goals may keep his side up.
The former Ipswich striker has struggled to live up to the expectation after making a move to Sunderland in 2011 for a transfer fee of £8m with bonuses adding up to £12m. He was regarded as a future England international when he was breaking through at Ipswich, where he made his first team debut at the age of 16. Many of the biggest clubs in England were interested in Wickham at one time, but his struggles at Sunderland have seen him fall off the radar. There were concerns about his mentality, which has seen him fall out of favour with many of the managers he has had at Sunderland. Even Gus Poyet was reluctant to use Wickham, sending him on loan twice this season, but his form in the Championship made him hard to ignore.
He has scored five goals in his last three games, with two braces, which shows that he has the ability to play in the top flight, but it was his form in the Championship which saw him make the transition into the Sunderland first team. He scored 8 goals in 11 matches for Sheffield Wednesday, who were struggling when he was at the club, which makes his goal tally all the more impressive. Before the match against Cardiff, he had a shooting accuracy of 70% and a chance conversion of 30%, which will have improved after his two goals against the Welsh club.
The striker is only 21, which is incredible as he has been around for such a long time. After finally showing his ability in the top flight, you would have to hope that he will start to push on and become a regular goal threat in the Premier League, firstly for Sunderland, but its clear that he has the potential to play for a top club, if he continues to apply himself and stay focused on his football. Its still early to praise him as a future England international, but if he continues to make the gains he has made this season, there is certainly a huge chance that he will reach that level. Sunderland would have been relegated if they continued with Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore, who both struggled this season, therefore Wickham has been crucial in their turn around.
Sunderland have a pleasant run in compared with their rivals, plus they have a game in hand over the bottom three. They face a tough trip to Old Trafford next weekend, but two homes games against West Brom and Swansea should see Sunderland have the opportunity to pick enough points to secure their Premier League status. There is still work to do, but Sunderland have the momentum to avoid relegation, especially if Wickham keeps up his brilliant form in front of goal. The North East side have a huge summer ahead as a number of players’ contracts are set to run out. Sebastian Larsson looks set to move to Germany, while Jack Colback is set to make the move to rivals Newcastle if reports are to be believed. The likes of Phil Bardsley, Craig Gardner, Keiren Westwood, David Vaughan and Carlos Cuellar could also leave the club on frees.