VICTOR ANICHEBE has revealed how risks over his fitness have been taken in a bid to help Sunderland’s fight to stay in the Premier League, although he does not want to discuss his future until the club’s fate is decided.
Anichebe’s performances have been one of the few positives to emerge from a dreadful season so far, even though he was only signed as a free agent in September after the summer transfer window had closed.
The frustrating thing from a Sunderland perspective was that the Nigerian forward’s rise to prominence in the side had to be cut short when he suffered a hamstring injury on New Year’s Eve at Burnley.
Despite making a return a few weeks later, Anichebe suffered a cruciate ligament injury during his comeback as a substitute at West Brom on January 21. He didn’t play again until April 4 when Sunderland lost at Leicester City.
By that time the Black Cats had entered a full blown crisis once more, with David Moyes in the spotlight for the wrong reasons for his derogatory off-the-field remarks to BBC journalist Vicki Sparks as well as the run of poor results.
Anichebe is clearly frustrated with the way his first season has gone at Sunderland and it upsets him, having enjoyed his stay and his relationship with the fans since he was handed the chance by Moyes – who came under fire from the stands last weekend - to prove his worth.
Those feelings were what prompted him to make a quicker than expected return from his knee injury, and he has since played in the subsequent matches with Manchester United and West Ham United.
Anichebe said: “I love it here, before I got injured I felt great, performances were good, someone was saying that outside Eden Hazard I was one of the highest ranked attackers in the league, so I’ve enjoyed it.
“The fans have been great to me, it is a really great club, so whenever I go out there I try as hard as I can.
“This latest injury was meant to keep me out for 12/13 weeks but I came back after nine, because I wanted to help the team because I know I can with the different style I bring.
“It’s a great club, great stadium, great training facilities, great fanbase, it’s a shame we are where we are.”
Anichebe’s presence has given Sunderland an extra edge in attack when he has played and he has linked well with Jermain Defoe.
He was crucial to the run of four wins in six matches in November-December which raised hope of survival temporarily, and that period has ensured they are not condemned to life in the Championship already.
There will be huge changes in summer regardless of what division Sunderland are in next season, but an expected fall out of the Premier League would lead to even greater movement.
Players’ contracts have clauses in them that will see their wages take a considerable cut, while many players are out of contract including Anichebe.
It is not unthinkable Anichebe will stay for a further year at Sunderland even if they do go down, but it is likely to depend on whether there is other interest in his services from the higher league.
He said: “I’m not thinking about it at the moment, I just need to stay fit and help us get some wins, for the fans here and ourselves.”
Sunderland have a free weekend and will be back in action when they travel to Middlesbrough next Wednesday. By that time the nine-point gap to safety could be even greater because Hull, Swansea City and Boro all play.
Sunderland winger Wahbi Khrazi hopes to retain his place against Middlesbrough, having been thrown back into the starting line-up for the first time since October. He scored direct from a corner against the Hammers.
Khazri, whose omission has surprised supporters, said: “I hope so, it’s my job. I like this team and I like this club – the fans are unbelievable – so we need to fight and give 100 per cent.
“We are nine points behind Hull and if we win at Middlesbrough we can cut that gap to six, so we need to keep the faith and fight for all 38 games.”