Victor Anichebe says he loves playing for Sunderland – and that he has proven as much by rushing back from injury to help in their fight against relegation.
But the 28-year-old has given no thought to whether he will try to stay at the club after his contract runs out at the end of the season.
Little was expected of Anichebe when he joined the club as a free agent in September. He had been released by West Bromwich Albion and answered the call after his former Everton manager David Moyes failed to sign the targetman striker he had hoped for in the summer transfer window.
It took until October for the Nigerian international to be fit enough to start a game and he tore his hamstring on New Year’s Eve but in between time his performances and his three goals belatedly kick-started the Black Cats’ season. Not surprisingly, it has made him a popular figure at the Stadium of Light and the feeling is mutual.
“I love it here,” he said. “Before I got injured I felt great, performances were good, someone was saying that outside (of Chelsea’s 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 injury was meant to keep me out for 12 or 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 rushed back from his hamstring injury in late January, but the substitute injured his knee against old club West Brom, further holding him back.
Despite that, he remains Sunderland’s second highest goalscorer this season, joint with Patrick van Aanholt, who joined Crystal Palace in January. Anichebe’s physical presence has allowed Moyes to use him as the sort of person top-scorer Jermain Defoe can play off, allowing Sunderland to go more direct when circumstances dictate. Jordan Pickford in particularly is adept at picking him out from long balls.
However Anichebe’s footballing intelligence means he has rarely been used as a centre-forward, granting the Black Cats an extra man in midfield by playing out wide when the opposition are in possession and picking his moments to come inside when they have it.
Anichebe is one of a clutch of former Everton players signed on short-term contracts to plug the holes in Sunderland’s squad, but probably the only one who could be described as a success. His attributes make him well suited to life in the Championship and with Defoe and Fabio Borini set to leave in the summer, Moyes could find himself without a recognised senior centre-forward.
Despite his glowing words for the club, Anichebe dodged the question of whether he would be open to a new deal at the end of the season.
“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 for ourselves,” he said.
Since Moyes set the target of five more wins this season to stay in the Premier League, his side have not had one and they have only six matches remaining. They seem certain to be relegated from the division as the gap to 17th-placed Hull City currently stands at nine points.
The sides meet in East Yorkshire in May, but Hull have not lost a home game since Boxing Day.