Leeds United have given their bid for play-off qualification a major shot in the arm by taking Sunderland striker Connor Wickham on loan in a further sign of Massimo Cellino’s growing influence at Elland Road.
Wickham vowed to drive Leeds towards a top-six finish in the Championship after joining United for the rest of the season and becoming the club’s second high-profile recruit in the space of a week.
United funded the arrival of goalkeeper Jack Butland from Stoke City last Friday and have now beaten Sheffield Wednesday to the signing of Wickham – a player who scored against Leeds during their 6-0 defeat at Hillsborough last month.
Wickham, 20, will make his debut away to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday with Leeds fighting to overturn a seven-point deficit to the play-offs during their final 15 matches.
The England Under-21 international said: “The potential here is big. There are some players I know already and the team is looking to push towards the play-offs. Hopefully I can help with that.
“I just want to play football, do the best I can and hopefully push the team into the promotion picture.”
His prolific record with Wednesday – eight goals in 11 appearances – helped to drag the South Yorkshire club away from the Championship’s relegation zone, and Wednesday were keen to re-sign him from Sunderland.
But Wickham, who is currently surplus to requirements at the Stadium of Light and has started only one Premier League game all season, took up United’s offer yesterday, saying: “Once I heard Leeds were interested in signing me there were no other choices and no doubt I wanted to come. I need to be playing football.”
Leeds have not confirmed whether Cellino – the Italian businessman who is waiting for the Football League to approve his 75 per cent takeover of the club – was responsible for funding the deal for Wickham but evidence of the 57-year-old’s input at Elland Road is increasingly apparent. Cellino is understood to have injected fresh funds into the club this week with the February wage bill due and despite recent financial concerns, the club have allowed manager Brian McDermott to make his first signings since the middle of the January transfer window.
Wickham received squad number nine at Elland Road, a shirt which has been vacant since Steve Morison’s move to Millwall in the summer.