KYLE LAFFERTY likes what Charlie Wyke has to offer the Sunderland cause but, after scoring his first two goals since moving to the Stadium of Light, the Northern Ireland international has no intention of letting his fellow striker back in.

Wyke’s absence against Gillingham on Saturday with a back problem was to the January recruit’s advantage because he finally got to make his full debut for the club he signed for until the end of the season in January.

And having had nine substitute appearances without finding the net, Lafferty delivered two predatory goals that should have secured three points for Sunderland only for defensive lapses to cost the promotion chasers on Wearside.

Nevertheless, from a personal point of view, there was satisfaction felt by the 32-year-old having scored his first goals in a red and white shirt to remind everyone that he still knows how to finish – and now Wyke faces a challenge to get back into the side.

“I’ve been biding my time for six or seven weeks now,” said Lafferty. “I think Charlie has done superbly well while I have been here, scored goals, his link up play and everything else - I’ve been impressed with him myself.

“But he’s injured, so that’s given me the nod and two goals is a good start but at the end of the day, dropping points is more important and that’s taken the shine off it a bit.”

There was a chance for him to get a hat-trick too, but between him and Lynden Gooch there was no way through goalkeeper Jack Bonham and Gillingham survived. That paved the way for former Sunderland striker Mikael Mandron to cancel out Lafferty’s goals.

Lafferty will be looking to build on his excellent finishes now, though. He has scored wherever he has been, including Sarpsborg in Norway and both Hearts and Rangers north of the border in recent years. His last goal in English football was against Leeds for Norwich in November 2016.

Lafferty headed Sunderland in front in the 64th minute when he dived at the near post to convert Denver Hume’s perfect cross. His second was a cool finish low and beyond Bonham after George Dobson had played him in behind the backline with seven minutes left.

“I don’t really score many headers, for the size of me you’re probably thinking ‘what’, but I don’t score many goals with my head,” said Lafferty. “Obviously it was a great ball in by Denver and I’ve managed to get in front of my marker and score.

“Probably the second one was my favourite. It’s a great ball by Dobbo and I didn’t even have to take a touch, it was the perfect weighted pass. I saw the keeper coming out and that kind of makes your mind up for you and any touch around him will go in.

Lafferty added: “I'll offer something slightly different than Charlie. His hold-up play is slightly better than mine, but I'll get in behind defenders more than him I'd say. It’s good that the manager has that option for both of us and if he decides to play one of us or both, then I think we'll thrive off it.

“Getting two goals on my full debut is nice for me, but at the end of the day it's about the team. To drop points the way we did is disappointing, but we've got two very important games away from home so we'll focus on them. We've got 27 points to play for so hopefully we can get on a run.”

After Lafferty had put Sunderland ahead in the closing stages it looked as if they would climb to within a point of second-placed Rotherham United, so to finish Saturday sitting fifth and three shy of the Millers was a blow.

It means Sunderland, while only losing one, have failed to win any of their last three games going into tomorrow’s trip to Bristol Rovers so continuing to slip up is not what is required if Phil Parkinson’s men are going to sneak back into the automatic promotion places in the run-in.

“In a way we've gained a point because Rotherham lost,” said Lafferty. “If we had won the game then we would be sitting third, but we've got nine games left, 27 points to play for, plenty of football left to play and we're still hungry.  “We still want to go out there and fight. I think overall two long balls into the box lost us the three points, but it's a team game - we can't talk about individuals, it's a team game.”

While Lafferty was not pointing the finger, he will be satisfied to have left the pitch knowing he had done his job and the Sunderland fans chanted his name to show their appreciation.  The much-travelled front-man said: “I think I was told on Thursday I would start. It's obviously nice to get the nod and to let me know early doors.  “Missing Charlie is a blow, but I think he'll be back in the next couple of games. From a personal point of view, it's nice to get my first start and to get the two goals is nice as well, but it's disappointing not to leave the game with three points.

“It was nice from the fans. Fans signing your name at any part of the game is important, and the fans stay with the team. They need to keep pushing us on. They'll be the 12th man and having them behind us is massive. The lads do take note of that, and it's important they keep on coming and give us a massive push.”

The League One promotion race is taking plenty of twists and turns but Sunderland do tend to take huge followings everywhere with them, which will be the case again at Bristol Rovers tomorrow.  Gillingham’s performance at the Stadium of Light is reflective of many they face this season, in that teams work hard and make life hard for the Black Cats because they tend to raise their game against Parkinson’s side.

“Gillingham are a hard team to break down,” said Lafferty. “We were told that from early doors, I think Thursday the manager showed us clips of them. I think teams coming here, it's their cup final. They're playing Sunderland, the biggest team in the league without a shadow of a doubt, and they want to beat us.  “I think the last couple of games we haven't really performed in the first 15, 20 minutes and then teams get on that. I think they tried to press us with our own game, but to go in at half-time with a draw was a fair enough game.”

Lafferty, meanwhile, celebrated his opening goal by charging straight for the technical area to hug Sunderland's long-serving kit-man John Cooke.  And Lafferty had this explanation for running over to the former Carlisle, Stockport and Sunderland player who has worked at the Wearside club since the days at Roker Park in 1994.

Lafferty said: "We were told the day before the game that Cookie's Dad had died. Cookie is one of the boys, everyone loves him, so I said if I scored I would dedicate the goal to him and his Dad. I think it was only right to go over to him."