CONNOR Wickham’s proposed move to Sheffield Wednesday is in the balance after the Black Cats told the Owls to cover 50% of his weekly wage to push through a loan deal.
The England under-21 striker netted again for the Three Lions in their routine defeat of Northern Ireland on Tuesday and is a wanted man, with several Championship clubs understood to be interested in signing him on an emergency loan until Christmas.
Sheffield Wednesday are at the head of the queue, with Owls manager Dave Jones having lodged an enquiry with Sunderland about taking the striker to Hillsborough. However, the Black Cats are not prepared to let the striker go on the cheap.
The Wearsiders are believed to want a hefty contribution towards the 19-year-old’s wage, which is understood to be in excess of £20,000-a-week.
That appears to be slowing the progress of the move, with the Owls struggling to afford the terms of the deal. Wolverhampton Wanderers and former club Ipswich have also been linked with a move for a player who desperately needs to play regularly to put his career back on track.
Although Wickham has played well for the reserves and has enjoyed success with the England under-21 side, O’Neill has not used the striker this season.
He has played one minute of football for Sunderland this season, which is surprising given the Black Cats’ struggles in front of goal.
Many are arguing for Wickham to be given a chance at the Stadium of Light, especially after first-choice hitman Steven Fletcher pulled out of Scotland’s game in Luxembourg last night.
There was a also ringing endorsement for the £8million striker Wickham from his international boss Stuart Pearce on Tuesday.
He said: “He did well at Ipswich and got his move and then it has been a little bit start-stop for him at Sunderland.
“I always draw a comparison with Theo Walcott moving from Southampton to Arsenal.
“He is not playing regularly and we need to make sure we supplement his confidence and fitness and we get to see his ability on occasions at under-21 level.
“I think he showed that on Tuesday night and he looks as though he is enjoying himself out there.
“I see his demeanour around the place and he is enjoying meeting up with us.”
As one young player looks on the verge of leaving Sunderland, there may be an opportunity for another after Keiren Westwood was sent home from international duty to undergo scans.
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper was injured in training and missed their friendly with Greece last night.
That paves the way for highly-promising young stopper Jordan Pickford to provide back-up for Simon Mignolet at Fulham on Sunday.
Pickford is an England under-19 international and kept a clean sheet for the Three Lions underage side against Finland on Tuesday.
He is hotly tipped to be the next Sunderland player to break through and O’Neill will have few worries about picking him for the bench at Craven Cottage if Westwood’s injury proves to be serious.