Martin O'Neill wants Connor Wickham to kick on in the Premier League

Last Updated: 22/12/12 2:23pm

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Connor Wickham: Needs to start paying back his £8.1m transfer fee

Connor Wickham: Needs to start paying back his £8.1m transfer fee

Sky Bet

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has challenged striker Connor Wickham to start proving he is a Premier League player.

Wickham cost Sunderland £8.1m in the summer of last year, bringing with him a big reputation, but his chances to shine have been few and far between.

The England Under-21 international has been pressed into action recently by Steven Fletcher's ankle injury and could start again when they take on Southampton on Saturday at St Mary's.

"I am seeing an improved player. He's doing a lot of work. He has started to realise what a professional footballer is all about, and he wants to try to do things properly," O'Neill said.

"I'm not saying he wasn't before that in that sense, but I think he is starting to realise what the game is about.

"The sort of position he plays within the team is very, very important, and he has got to show those attributes.

"Physically, he is very strong and he has got to show those attributes that I think he possesses."

O'Neill knows victory at Southampton would do a lot to take the pressure off his shoulders, but says that is easier said than done despite the Saints struggling on their return to the Premier League.

He added: "They are playing well. They seem to have overcome their initial difficulties in the league, they are getting used to it now.

"Like ourselves, they retain a good spirit and they are in decent form themselves."

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