Connor Wickham has struggled for both form and playing time throughout his Sunderland career. In the main since he joined he's either been warming the bench, or warming the fax machine with frequent loan spells. However, over the last few games he's begun to show a bit of the promise that persuaded Steve Bruce to throw him in the trolley at Harrod's all those years ago. His performance against Everton was one of his best in a Sunderland shirt, but against Manchester City he was magnificent. He now has a chance to have that all-important run of games that his supporters have long maintained is all he needs to kick-start his Sunderland career. Could this signal the start of the striker fulfilling his potential?
In truth he will never have a better chance; the footballing stars are as aligned for Wickham at the moment as they will ever be. His confidence should be flowing after a performance at Manchester City where he displayed perfect centre forward play. He first snaffled up a chance in the six yard box in a manner that couldn't be any less reminiscent of the performances of his fellow strikers this season, before bursting a gut to get on the end of a counter-attack and finishing coolly past Joe Hart.
He also finally has a coach at Sunderland who is prepared to install him as the side's first choice striker for a run of games. For Steve Bruce he was always behind Nicklas Bendtner in the pecking order, Martin O'Neill then brought in first Steven Fletcher and then Danny Graham instead of turning to Wickham. Paolo Di Canio brought in Jozy Altidore to help lead his frontline when he wanted a striker to partner Fletcher. In January, aware he needed extra firepower up front, Sunderland's latest coach Gus Poyet decided to bring in Ignacio Scocco rather than immediately recall the youngster.
However now with Fletcher injured, Altidore firmly out of favour and Scocco still only slowly adapting to English football, Wickham has the comfort of knowing his starting spot is all but assured. This should give him a confidence that his previous role as a bit-part player did not afford him. Also, to an extent, the pressure is actually off at the moment for him. Most fans are pretty much resigned to relegation now, what's needed from the players is some fight and desire to end the season. If Wickham at least gives the last few games of the season his best shot, and shows that despite all of the loan moves he is still committed to making his Sunderland career a success, then he'll at least have his chance to prove himself.
I'm not saying that it is a sure-fire thing that Wickham will now push on to establish himself at Sunderland. The Essex lad has seemingly specialised in scoring impressive, important braces before fading back to the mean in the following games. The FA Cup against Bolton and the League Cup win against MK Dons both spring immediately to mind. But this feels different, this was not a cameo appearance in a cup fixture against lower league opposition, this was a crucial league match away to a team with one of the most impressive home records in Europe. The Etihad is not an easy ground to visit for any footballer, that Wickham left having played more impressively than Manchester City's smorgasbord of striking talent, allied with a run of games he's almost sure to start to come, should give him a boost that previous impressive outings haven't managed.
If Wickham can show some good form and score a few more goals in the run to the end of the season then, in all likelihood, we still won't stay up. However, what this should give him is some confidence to carry into next season in the Championship. We already face a huge overhaul of the playing squad, so if we can get some of those players we can keep in good form ready for next year then it can only be a good thing. Perhaps a strikeforce of Danny Graham, a proven quantity in that league, and a revitalised Connor Wickham supplemented by Nacho Scocco, who looks to be starting to find his feet, won't be as nightmarish as it may have initially seemed.