'I respect Ipswich so much... but there's only one team I'm trying to win for' - Wickham excited to face Town for first time

Connor Wickham comes up against Ipswich Town for the first time this afternoon

Connor Wickham comes up against Ipswich Town for the first time this afternoon - Credit: Archant/MK Dons

Connor Wickham remembers his Ipswich Town debut like it was yesterday. 

But it’s the present, rather than the past, which dominates his thinking as he prepares to face his former club for the first time this weekend. 

The striker, now 28, is part of the MK Dons squad looking to fend off the challenge of Ipswich and their 7,000-strong traveling army this weekend, as both sides look to secure three big points in their bid to win promotion from League One. 

For Wickham, facing the Blues is a nice reminder of where his journey in the professional game began back in 2009, but there’s not too much room for sentiment. He and his team have a job to do. 

SPORT; Photograph Simon Parker 5/2/2011; Ipswich Town V Sheffield United; Connor Wickham celebrates

Connor Wickham came through the ranks at Ipswich Town - Credit: Archant

“It’s nice to be involved because I’m actually quite surprised I’ve never managed to get back there or play against Ipswich in the 10 years since I left,” the striker said, speaking to this newspaper ahead of the game. 

“It’s a game I’m looking forward to but the focus is on the team I’m at now. We’re in a great position and this is a big game for us. It’s nice to face a former team but there’s only one I’m trying to win for. 

“Ipswich are bringing a lot of fans and I’m looking forward to seeing them because I have a massive respect for Ipswich. I know they take a lot of fans everywhere they go, especially now they’re in a good place. 

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“But for us we can only control what’s going on on the pitch and not the outside noise. Once we get past the white line it’s about getting three points. It doesn’t matter if there’s 7,000 away fans or none. 

“We’re not going to fear anyone and we’re confident in our own ability.” 

Sport Ipswich Town vs Doncaster Rovers from Portman Road,IpswichConnor Wickham coming on for I

Wickham made his debut for Town against Doncaster in April 2009. He became the club's youngest-ever player - Credit: Archant

Wickham stepped off the bench and into the limelight on April 11, 2009, when, aged just 16 years and 11 days, he was given his debut against Doncaster by former Town boss Jim Magilton. He became Town’s youngest-ever player and appeared destined for big things from the start. 

“It feels like it was yesterday,” he said. “It’s 12 years ago. Crazy. 

“It was supposed to happen a few weeks earlier. Jim Magilton had told me it was going to happen in one game but we had an injury early and it threw everything off I think. But when I did get on I was absolutely buzzing. 

“I have a huge amount of respect for everything Ipswich did for me. It’s a great club and the managers I had and the players I played with gave me a massive foundation at the start of my career. I had some really good times there. 

“I hope the fans give me a nice reception but that isn’t always the case. We’ll see on the day.  

Football - Doncaster Rovers v Ipswich Town npower Football League Championship - The Keepmoat Stadiu

Football - Doncaster Rovers v Ipswich Town npower Football League Championship - The Keepmoat Stadium - 15/2/11; Connor Wickham (L) celebrates with Jimmy Bullard after scoring Ipswich Town's sixth goal from penalty spot to complete his hat trick; Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Ed Sykes; Livepic; ES 17.2.11 - Credit: Action Images

“Ipswich is a massive part of me and where I came up and where my football journey started. I’ll never forget how the club helped me out and all the good people. It’s nice to see the club looking up again. 

“Apart from in this game I wish them all the best. I enjoyed every minute of being there.” 

There was always a feeling that Ipswich fans wouldn’t get to enjoy Wickham for too long. Big clubs were linked in every transfer window after his debut, with admirers only growing as a result of his outstanding solo goal against Sheffield United and an excellent hat-trick at Doncaster. 

Sunderland was his eventual destination, though, in a deal which netted the Blues and initial £8million and took Wickham to the Premier League. 

Injuries have seen him drop down the pyramid, following spells with Crystal Palace, Sheffield, Wednesday, Leeds and a brief time with Preston. But it’s clear the striker still has the desire and belief to operate at the top end of the game once again. 

Ipswich vs Arsenal in the Semi Finals First leg of the Carling Cup match held at Portman Road,Ipswic

Ipswich vs Arsenal in the Semi Finals First leg of the Carling Cup match held at Portman Road,Ipswich.; Connor Wickham. - Credit: Archant

“I would have happily stayed at Ipswich because I liked it there, my family were there and we felt settled, but then an offer came in that the club couldn’t say no to,” Wickham said of his move. 

“It was a chance for me to go and play at the highest level and it was a chance every young footballer would have taken.  

“Ipswich were a massive part of my upbringing and they always will be but the focus is about where I am right now. 

“I always back my ability and know that once I’m back fit and firing that I can still play at the highest level. I’m only 28 and still have a good few years left in me. 

“But after my injuries this is a great place for me to play games. If I can get the games here I need and want and can help the team, then collectively as a team I think we can be in a great position and hopefully have something to celebrate.” 

MK Dons seems the perfect platform for Wickham to get his career back on track. He’s one of the older heads in a young squad, led by a coach the striker knows extremely well from their time together in the Town academy. 

Connor Wickham (centre), pictured alongside MK Dons manager Liam Manning (right) and Sporting Direct

Connor Wickham (centre), pictured alongside MK Dons manager Liam Manning (right) and Sporting Director Liam Sweeting (left). Photo: MK Dons FC - Credit: MK Dons

Liam Manning coached Wickham during his formative years at Playford Road and, now the two are working in the senior game together 15 years on, it seems a good fit. 

“I wanted to give myself a platform I can go and perform on and we have a group of players here who are going to do well,” Wickham said of the move to Milton Keynes. “We’re on a really good run and are in a really good place. 

“Working with Liam again has been really good. He’s done incredibly well since he left Ipswich and has gained a lot of experience over in Belgium (Lommel) and in America (New York City FC) too. He’s worked with some very good people at some very good clubs. 

“You can see that in our dressing room now. We have a great energy and buzz in the squad. We have our goals and targets and we’re going at those together, which is showing on the pitch. 

“I’ve come in at a really good time. The boys have done the hard work over the first half of the season and we have to continue that now. I came when the club were fifth or sixth and now, after a few good results, we’re joint second but with Wigan having games in hand. 

“We’re a young squad but that doesn’t show in the pitch. Once we’re there we’re showing what we can do.” 

Wickham has been working his way back to full fitness since joining the Dons, having seen his time at Preston ended by a hamstring injury which required surgery. 

He’s made four appearances from the bench so far but is eyeing his first start and goal. Could they come against Town? 

He said: “I’ve sat down with the manager before I came in and, like I always have, I want to play as much as I can and help the team as much as I can. 

“I’d love to be starting games and playing every week but at the minute that’s not the case. It’s up to me to build my fitness and then hopefully my ability can shine through.”