After coming on in the later stages against Shrewsbury, the return of Luke O’Nien has been an exciting prospect for us Sunderland fans, but he shouldn’t return at right back, especially since he currently can’t play there because he can’t take throw ins, due to dislocating his shoulder…
A GAP THAT NEEDS FILLING
Since Lee Johnson’s appointment, the main problem in the side appears to be a lack of attacking input, pace and legs from the midfield; Grant Leadbitter tends to focus on pulling the strings from deep, Josh Scowen looks out of his comfort zone in the final third with wayward deliveries and Max Power tends to sit deeper while creating, leading to a lack of bodies in the final third meaning forwards, namely Charlie Wyke, lack support to play off as well as create extra problems for defenders by being marked or moving to create space. However, when placed further forward, in his natural position, Luke O’Nien has proven he has the potential to add to our attack through goals in the box, such as his winners at home to MK Dons and Southend last season. A player with the ability to add such a threat causes defenders to lose track of other forwards such as Wyke due to the serious threat of O’Nien when in the final third, removing a lot of the pressure on him now to score, as Wyke can often be found in the box alone, especially from crosses, making it easy to be marked.
HE’S PROVEN HE CAN DO IT
Despite the limited time O’Nien has experienced in forward areas for the lads, his history proves the experience he has in forward areas. In thirty four starts in midfield or Wycombe, the 26 year-old managed 12 goal contributions as the Wanderers earned promotion to the third tier in the 2017/18 season, often playing as a box-to-box player, bursting into the box or waiting on the edge, much like he did for the two goals previously mentioned, proving he can contribute to the team’s goal tally if given the license to go forward, which he hasn’t for large parts of his time at Sunderland given his significant playing time as a right back or wing back.
A BIT SOMETHING DIFFERENT
As I touched on earlier, the current line-up of midfield aren’t that suited to playing within the final third, as they don’t have the attributes required, but O’Nien is different. His energy going forward is something we’ve missed since the departure of George Honeyman, his passing ability and range is unlike no other of the midfielders, aside from Grant Leadbitter who doesn’t tend to get into the final third much on the break anyway; combined with his ability to score goals, O’Nien can offer us attributes missing in the final third, as we can often be slow in our movement, wayward with passes and lacking goals from midfield to support Wyke’s efforts.
Despite offering us a great outlet out wide, providing a real threat down the wing, because he currently can’t take throw ins until his shoulder rehab is over, I can see the attributes of O’Nien being more valuable to us further up the pitch and centrally, where he can add attributes we are missing to complete the attacking line-up and give us the edge in the final third to break teams down consistently. If we’re sticking with 4-2-2-2, I see him coming in for Josh Scowen, playing a similar role yet providing more in the final third or coming in to a 4-3-3 as one of the advanced midfielders to get close to Wyke as he’d quicken the attack, give us different options going forward and likely add to our struggling goal tally.