Bruce urges patience when it comes to Wickham

13 August 2011 08:00
HE might have cost £8m, but Sunderland boss Steve Bruce insists it would be wrong to expect summer signing Connor Wickham to make an immediate impact at the Stadium of Light.

Wickham could make his Premier League debut when the Black Cats visit Anfield this afternoon, but it is likely to be from the substitutes' bench with Bruce set to name the teenager amongst his seven replacements.

Eighteen-year-old Wickham was one of the stars of the Championship last season, and Sunderland saw off today's opponents in the race to secure his services earlier this summer.

But while Bruce remains confident he has acquired one of the most promising young strikers in the country, he is planning to tread carefully when it comes to exposing him to the demands of the top-flight.

"It's important that we protect him," said the Sunderland boss. "It's not going to be easy up here because of all the expectation he's surrounded by.

"He's a big-money signing, but he's only 18, he's Louis Laing's age. He could still play in the youth team this weekend if I wanted him to.

"Yes, he's an exceptional talent, but you don't get many 18-year-olds playing week in, week out in the Premier League so we must develop him."We've got one of the most outstanding youngsters in the country, we certainly think that when we watch him, but we have to protect him. He'll come into the team, no doubt about that, but I wouldn't expect him to play 38 games."

Bruce is expected to name Asamoah Gyan as a lone striker this afternoon, with Stephane Sessegnon playing in the hole between midfield and attack.

Gyan was linked with a move away from Wearside earlier this summer, but Bruce insists there was never an intention to sell the Ghana international.

Indeed, having watched his club's record signing score ten Premier League goals in his first season in English football, the Black Cats boss is confident Gyan will be even better this term.

"I don't know where the speculation this summer came from, I really don't," said Bruce. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm expecting really big things from Asamoah.

"He's got a season under his belt now and he knows what the Premier League is, so I hope he can have a big season for us."He got 11 goals in 20 games last year (in all competitions), and if he can improve on that, he'll have done well."

Today's game pits Sunderland against a Liverpool side that are hoping to challenge for their first title of the Premier League era, but Bruce insists his former employers at Manchester United remain the team to beat.

"Anybody who finishes above Man United will win the league," he said. "They are the ones to beat because they won the league last season and they've invested wisely again. But Liverpool have certainly made giant strides in the last six months."

Source: Northern_Echo