Chase is on for Connor

IPSWICH Town's young teen sensation, Connor Wickham, has been attracting the interest of Aston Villa.

Carl Marston

IPSWICH Town's young teen sensation, Connor Wickham, has been attracting the interest of Aston Villa.

Wickham cannot sign his first professional contract until the day of his 17th birthday, so it's no surprise that several high-profile clubs are keeping tabs on Town's big, powerful striker.

England under-17 international Wickham does not turn 17 until March 31, 2010, and Town fans will be hoping that he chooses to stay at Portman Road to progress his senior career, at least for the next few years.

It's no guarantee that a raw 16-year-old, however impressive, is going to make the grade as a top-flight footballer, but there are plenty of clubs who are willing to take that gamble.

Chelsea were linked with Town's young prodigy last month, and now Villa are reported to be interested in him.

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Villa boss Martin O'Neill is well known for putting his faith in young English talent - more so than perhaps any other Premier League manager - which is why he would be a likely candidate to work with Wickham. Nathan Delfouneso and Gabriel Agbonlahor are two such young talents who have come up through the Villa Academy.

But it would be galling for Ipswich if Wickham was to slip through their fingers, having invested so much time and energy into his development.

However, as it stands, Town remain in pole position to secure Wickham's services on a permanent contract next spring.

He became the youngest player ever to make his debut for Town's senior team when appearing as a substitute against Doncaster Rovers last season, at the age of 16 years and 11 days.

Wickham is the latest in a long line of success stories to emerge from the Portman Road Academy in recent years, following in the footsteps of the likes of Kieron Dyer, Darren Bent and Richard Wright, and more recently Jordan Rhodes, Danny Haynes, Owen Garvan and Tommy Smith.

He shot to fame when scoring twice in Town's Carling Cup tie at Shrewsbury Town during the first week of the season, as well as netting in the ensuing penalty shoot-out.

Wickham started the Championship games at home to Crystal Palace and away at West Brom, and also came off the bench in last month's 1-1 home draws against Swansea City and Watford.

He was an unused substitute at Reading last weekend, following his latest exploits with the England Under-17s, which included a hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan.