EVERYBODY had it tough at Sunderland last season, but nobody experienced a more difficult set of circumstances than Charlie Wyke.

Heralded as the answer to the Black Cats’ attacking problems when he was prised from Bradford City after a lengthy courtship last summer, Wyke spent the few first few months of his Sunderland career recovering from the knee injury that had wrecked his pre-season.

He improved sufficiently to force his way into Jack Ross’ team, scoring on his debut after he came off the bench against Oxford United, but things were never quite right. Injuries continued to affect him, his form tailed off after a reasonably bright start, and he ended his maiden season on Wearside in ignominious fashion as he was hauled off midway through a play-off final defeat at Wembley. Suffice to say, that wasn’t really the plan.

So while plenty of Ross’ players returned to action at the start of this season with a point to prove, none were more desperate to hit the ground running than Wyke, a 26-year-old whose entire career has been an attempt to make up for lost time after he was released from Middlesbrough’s academy without having made a single senior appearance for his hometown club.

“Last year, I missed about six months altogether, which halted my time at Sunderland,” said Wyke, who ended last season with a haul of four goals from 24 League One appearances, almost half of which were from the substitutes’ bench. “It was a tough season.

“It was tough all round really. When you’re not playing well and don’t have confidence, it’s hard. Injuries are part and parcel of the game and you’re always going to pick up knocks, especially the way I play, but it was difficult. You get on with it, but it’s tough.

“But I’ll always give 100 per cent, I’ll do that every game, and I feel confident now so hopefully I take that into this season. I’ve got a full pre-season under my belt now and that makes a big difference.”

While he was not involved in Sunderland’s opening two games, Wyke made an instant impact when he came off the bench at Accrington, scoring his side’s third goal to help book a place in the second round of the Carabao Cup.

He impressed again as a substitute in last weekend’s league win over Portsmouth, and made the most of his first opportunity as a starter as he scored a second-half winner in Tuesday’s 2-1 success at Rochdale.

While Sunderland were not at their best at Spotland, with their opponents outplaying them for large parts of the first half in particular, they dug deep to secure back-to-back wins for the first time since April.

Ross was quick to praise his players’ efforts in the immediate aftermath of the game, and while there is an understandable desire to drive up performance levels, ‘winning ugly’ is not a bad habit to have. Significantly, it was not one the Black Cats ever really mastered last season.

“I really thought Rochdale were good,” said Wyke. “The system they played, it was so hard to get near them and on another day they probably could have won. Last season, that would have been a game we would have drawn, so we’re thankful we got the win.

“You’d have probably thought last season they’d have nicked a goal, but we hung on in the end and it was a great three points for us. We’ve got three wins on the bounce now, and that’s massive. If you look at the teams that went up last season, they all had that kind of momentum. We’ve just got to keep winning games, keep knocking the wins off, and then see where we are in a few months.”

In the first half at Spotland, Wyke found himself ploughing a lone furrow as an isolated striker. He battled away gamely, but looked much more comfortable after Will Grigg arrived to play alongside him in the early stages of the second half.

Ross has tended to shy away from playing two orthodox strikers alongside each other for the majority of his time at Sunderland, but after watching Tuesday’s second half, the Sunderland boss must be tempted to go that way for Saturday’s home game with AFC Wimbledon.

“I’d probably prefer someone up with me,” admitted Wyke. “Obviously, I’m not fast, so I’m not going to get in behind as much. When Will came on, I thought he did well, and we did alright together.

“He put himself about, and that’s what he’s good at. He got on the end of a few flick-ons and won some nice corners, and I thought he worked really hard for the team. It was good.”