Could Chelsea kickstart Connor’s stuttering season?

CONNOR Wickham is set to be unleashed on Chelsea hoping that one of the biggest stages in world football will help kick-start his stuttering season.

The 17-year-old is in line to start in Sunday’s FA Cup third-round match alongside Jason Scotland if Roy Keane’s limited options force him to go with two up front against the Premier League champions.

If he does get the nod, it will easily be Wickham’s biggest game of his burgeoning career – putting him in direct competition with former England captain John Terry.

And Ipswich Town fans will be hoping a 40,000-crowd and illustrious opponents will spur young Wickham onto greater heights following a stop-start season thus far.

The danger of course is that a great performance against Carlo Ancelotti’s struggling side could lead to Premier League clubs circling around the teenager before the January transfer window slams shut.

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But in this underwhelming campaign, one suspects many supporters would just be glad to see Wickham returning to the form which delighted so many at the end of last season and earned him the number nine shirt in the summer.

There are small signs of improvement. Wickham earned praise from his manager following only his second 90 minutes of the season against Nottingham Forest on Monday and with Rory Fallon cup-tied, there is every reason to think the teenage striker could be given a start.

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And a good performance from Wickham will probably be translated into a good overall display by Keane’s understrength side missing its four loan players and suspended midfielder Grant Leadbitter.

It is this dearth of options which could see the underfire manager start with two upfront especially as Chelsea’s defence has been far from solid this season.

This could, of course, also mean a return from the cold for Tamas Priskin who scored in the reserves’ 2-0 win against Crystal Palace on Tuesday. Keane has always been happy to pull a few surprises when it comes to his starting line-ups and the Hungarian striker, dropped after beginning to win over his doubters, could be thrown straight back into the side, either up front or on the wing if Keane adopts a more cautious approach.

But Wickham will be hoping for more of a run in the team as he looks to put behind him a disappointing end to 2010 – at club level at least.

Wearing the No. 9 shirt for the first time, Wickham whetted the appetite of Town fans by scoring two in the comfortable pre-season win against Histon before an ankle injury put him out for the start of the Championship campaign.

And just as he was starting to recover his fitness and form, with a start against Norwich City anticipated, the youngster suffered an thigh injury and missed the local derby.

Away from Suffolk, Wickham has shone on the international stage following his heroics for England Under-17s in the European Championships in the summer.

He has since made his debut for the Under-19s, scoring in the 6-1 win against Albania, and also as a second-half substitute for Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s side against Germany in November.

This has not helped dampen the continued speculation linking the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur with a move for one of the hottest prospects of 2011.

But his current club form might have put off potential suitors. At the very least, it would have knocked some pounds off his asking price.

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