CONNOR WICKHAM is desperate to make the most of his chance to prove he can still succeed at Sunderland - even if there remains interest away from Wearside.
The 20-year-old striker was thrust straight in to the Black Cats starting line-up at Anfield after being recalled from a loan at Leeds United.
Wickham performed solidly despite facing a Liverpool side with ambitions of winning the Premier League title.
And when he was withdrawn in the larger stages of the second half on Wednesday night, there were groans from the Sunderland fans tucked away in the corner of the Anfield Road stand.
His performances in the Championship this season - during loans at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds - means there is sure to be strong competition for his services in the summer if he is made available.
And Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka, with his assistant Craig Hignett, personally ran the rule over the England Under-21 international on Merseyside.
But Wickham, who has struggled to make an impact on Wearside since his £8.1m move from Ipswich in 2011, is not looking too far ahead.
He is keen to make the most of his latest chance to shine, with Gustavo Poyet already revealing that he will keep his place in the team for Monday's crucial visit of West Ham United.
Wickham said: “This is my parent club and I can't go against their word – if they want me back, they want me back.
“When I was out on loan I was just focusing on the team I was in at the time – Sheffield, Leeds – and just focusing on what I needed to do to get in their team.
"If I came back and got back in the team here, that was good. It's now happened, so I just need to focus on Sunderland and getting back into the team.
“I've been in good form, I've played a lot of games so I'm match-fit. Hopefully I can keep that rolling and not let that slip."
Wickham moved to Leeds in the build up to the Capital One Cup final earlier this month, when confidence in the Sunderland squad was high.
But Poyet's side have not won a Premier League game since - and dates back to the February 1 triumph at Newcastle - which has increased worries of relegation.
Wickham said: “I wouldn't say confidence is exactly as I left it because results haven't been kind for us since I've been away.
"But we've got a strong group, a strong dressing room and a positive one, so it's up to us to pick up the points.
“We can take a lot of positives from the game at Liverpool. We've got a game on Monday so we need to recover right and get our mindframes on the game on Monday."
Poyet has also revealed he is likely to field the same wing-back formation he sent out at Liverpool. That means Wickham starting as part of a front-two, with Fabio Borini likely to replace Jozy Altidore.
“The shape can change after 20 minutes, after 50 minutes or after 75 minutes, " said Wickham. "As a team you have to be ready and able to adapt to whatever the manager's going to do.
"He said he was going to put me in. It's not a job I haven't done before. It's easy to adapt in any team.
“West Ham are going to be a tough, strong, physical side but if we can get the ball down, play around them and do our thing I think we can pick up points."
Sunderland, three points shy of safety, can ill-afford another slip-up when the Hammers - who were booed off by their own fans despite beating Hull on Wednesday - travel to the North-East.
Poyet has seen his team turn in inconsistent performances on home soil and they have failed to beat Hull and Crystal Palace in their last two games at the Stadium of Light.
“We're going to have to deliver at home," said Wickham, knowing there are also winnable home games with Cardiff, West Brom and Swansea to come.
"We need to pick up points . We need to face that reality. We need to pick up points, scrappy points or good points.
“I haven't been here but I know the lads, the team and the dressing room and I don't think there's any doubt we've got the character. We can do it and climb away from trouble."
* Sunderland young goalkeeper Joel Dixon has joined Boston United on a youth loan.