CONNOR WICKHAM’S performance was one of the big plus points for Dick Advocaat on his Sunderland bow after admitting he took a chance on the striker.
By his own admission, Wickham has blown hot and cold over recent months, albeit he was not helped by Gus Poyet constantly shuffling him between the left wing and striker roles.
But Wickham took the man of the match accolade in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham after an industrious performance in the hole behind front two Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe.
Head coach Advocaat was unsure whether Wickham could operate in that position, but with few other viable options available, he handed the 21-year-old an opportunity.
Advocaat said: “I took a risk with Wickham in a position he never played, but he did really well.
“Wickham is a natural striker, but he played excellent.”
The tweak to Sunderland’s system was one of a number of notable differences in Advocaat’s opening game, with the Black Cats more ready to look for a long ball over the top to Jermain Defoe.
But the big change was the added industry and pressing in Sunderland’s ranks from the final days of Poyet’s reign.
Advocaat says that was the main thrust of his message last week, with little time to make dramatic tactical changes after being parachuted in for the last nine games.
It looked like Sunderland’s extra effort would get them a point too, until Diafra Sakho’s 88th minute winner for the Hammers.
“I didn’t have much time to do things tactically-wise,” said Advocaat.
“I just wanted to keep it simple, be organised and work hard.
“Now I’ve got time to think about things.
“On Saturday, I saw a team that likes to work. It was a team that works for each other.
“The strikers worked really hard together with the midfield.
“In that way I’m pleased. It shows that they’re working as a team, rather than individuals.
“At the end, we didn’t get the luck we deserved.
“We tried to win the game. To be honest, I did not have the feeling that West Ham would score a goal.
“When they took (Kevin) Nolan off, I thought that was a good move for us. But somebody else didn’t!”