Despite concerns early in the season, it is now clear that Sunderland have the strongest squad in League One with quality across the pitch. Some people blamed the squad rather than the management under Phil Parkinson, but it’s obvious that the ex-Bolton man simply failed to get the best out of a talented bunch of individuals.
In the face of an ongoing injury crisis at the club, the squad has proved capable of adapting to the unique situations that each player finds themselves in. Luke O’Nien arguably epitomises this adaptability more than anyone in the Football League. An attacking midfielder by trade, the ex-Wycombe player has filled in everywhere. Beginning at right back under Jack Ross, he was then pushed up to wingback by Phil Parkinson. Persistent injury woes have meant the right footed O’Nien has then been asked to play as a left back and now left sided centre back, where he has excelled beyond belief including two Man of the Match performances in a row in vital games against Portsmouth and Tranmere. It’s this versatility that is giving Sunderland a major boost in their promotion hopes.
With Jake Vokins and Callum McFadzean both showing improvements in recent performances, there is no position where we are weak, or without cover. When Denver Hume returns Lee Johnson will have three full backs to choose from. Our defence has looked formidable in recent weeks, not allowing a single shot on target in our last two league games. That being said, the pair of Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan are both scheduled to return soon, meaning O’Nien may be allowed a stint in midfield. At right back Conor McLaughlin’s return from injury is welcome, but Max Power has looked more than capable covering him and as previously mentioned, Luke O’Nien could play there if needed.
In midfield, the addition of Carl Winchester looks to be a good signing. His composure on the ball and defensive awareness allows his teammates to push further forward. We all know Leadbitter’s qualities at this level, as well as his and Power’s leadership skills. Josh Scowen has been in and out of the team, which speaks volumes about the number of options in midfield, but is always busy when he plays and would start week in week out for many other teams in this division.
The attack has been formidable this season, mostly due to the Wyke and McGeady partnership. In the EFL Trophy, no team has ever scored more than our total of 23 goals. The signing of Jordan Jones seems to have motivated Lynden Gooch. The two Aidens – McGeady and O’Brien have brought the best out of Wyke, something that neither Ross or Parkinson were able to do. Jack Diamond has proven to be a dangerous weapon off the bench against tired defences, and Chris Maguire is an elite impact sub at this level.
This assessment of the squad just goes to show that when everyone is back fit, Lee Johnson has a very skilled squad on his hands and that our momentum will be extremely hard to stop. Even the weakest areas of the pitch seem to have improved, which is a sign of a healthy dressing room atmosphere where every player is full of confidence.