THE first half of his season might have been wrecked by injury, but Charlie Wyke is hoping his freshness and lack of fatigue will enable him to play a crucial role at the defining end of Sunderland’s promotion push.

Having been nursing a knee injury when he completed a £1m move to Wearside, Wyke was just four games into his Sunderland career when he suffered a recurrence of the problem that sidelined him for three months.

A more cautious approach to his most recent comeback has reaped rewards, with Tuesday’s goalscoring appearance in the Checkatrade Trophy win over Newcastle Under-21s making it five successive outings for the striker.

There were inevitable signs of rustiness in last weekend’s League One draw at Charlton Athletic, with Wyke failing to convert a number of good opportunities, but the 26-year-old felt the sharpness returning in the week, and while other players might be suffering from burnout given the intensity of the schedule in the first half of the season, Wyke is heading into the final four months of the campaign eager to make up for lost time.

“It’s been hard not playing, but hopefully it means I’ll be fit and fresh in the second half of the season when other players who have played a lot more are starting to get a bit tired,” said the Teessider, who started his career as an academy trainee at Middlesbrough before moving to Carlisle United.

“It’s a hard league and there’s a lot of games, especially with the cup games. I’ve obviously missed a lot of games in the first half of the season, but I’m over that now and hopefully I can keep getting fitter the more games I play. Hopefully, I’ll be a lot fitter and feel a lot better than the players I’m playing against.

“This is the business end of the season now, and this is the best time to play football and hit form. We’ve got big games coming up against teams that are in and around us, and hopefully we can keep winning games and picking up points. We need to keep doing well in the league.”

Having just completed a seven-figure transfer, Wyke was understandably desperate to rush through his recovery from his initial injury in order to make his Sunderland debut.

In hindsight, he admits he allowed short-term goals to override his long-term wellbeing, a mistake he did not repeat during his most recent period of rehabilitation.

Wyke was training with Sunderland’s first-team squad for almost a month before he made his playing return in the Boxing Day win over Bradford, and the more cautious approach has ensured he is in much better shape as he looks to cement a place as the Black Cats’ main central striker.

“I’m a lot more ready now,” he said. “I think I did rush things back a bit the first time. It was frustrating joining the club being injured, and I was desperate to try to get myself back. I think in my head I told myself I was alright, but the knee definitely wasn’t and that collision (in the game at Burton Albion) just made it a lot worse. Now, I feel back to normal and hopefully I can kick on from here.

“The manager kept mentioning me coming back, and he’s always been good with me. He’s spoken to me a lot about how he wanted me to come back, and I’ve done a lot of work in the last few weeks to get there. Even before I came back playing, I’d done four or five weeks of intense training. I’m ready to come back now, and I think the gaffer has managed me really well.”

The benefits of that approach were obvious on Tuesday as Wyke claimed his second Sunderland goal with a close-range header. Some senior players might have been somewhat underwhelmed by the prospect of an outing in the Checkatrade Trophy, even if it was in the slightly surreal setting of a Wear-Tyne derby against Newcastle’s youngsters, but Wyke was delighted to get some more game time in which to sharpen his skills.

“I had a word with the gaffer and told him I want to play as much football as I can,” he said. “He had a word with me before the Newcastle game and said he wanted to play me for about 70 minutes. That was probably best for me. I obviously missed a few chances against Charlton, and you don’t want it playing in your head for too long. I’ve had a chance now to get out there, and thankfully I got a goal.

“I’ve missed that many games, I want to play in as many games as I can. I’m going to be asking whether there are any Under-18 or Under-23 games I can play in! I want to play as many games as I can now. It was a strange game for the club, but we played well in the second half and got the job done. We can move on now and look forward.”