Last season whilst plying his trade for Wycombe Wanderers, Luke O’Nien found the best form of his career to date. Managing 40 games in all competitions, the box-to-box midfielder manager to bag nine goals for himself whilst providing four assists - impressive returns for a 23-year-old midfielder finding his way in the lower leagues of English football.
O’Nien’s move up north seemed a great piece of business; Jack Ross had secured a talented, up-and-coming midfielder for a seemingly fair price, and Sunderland had acquired an energetic box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal.
So far this season, however, it’s probably fair to say that the former Wycombe man hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. The arrival of Max Power combined with the resurgence of Lee Cattermole has essentially demoted Luke O’Nien to the fringes of Jack Ross’ plans - but could that be about to change?
A second red card of the season means that Max Power will miss the next four league games, and that, coupled with Dylan McGeouch’s fitness issues and indifferent form, could be the perfect opportunity for Jack Ross to give the midfielder his opportunity to impress.
Power’s absence will not go unnoticed, but the midfield pairing of Cattermole and McGeouch doesn’t feel dynamic enough to effectively govern the middle of the park - especially if Ross is to persist with what at times equates to a front four. Sunderland need a midfield with a real engine in the heart of it, they need someone who will force the issue at throughout the middle of the park. Lee Cattermole has been excellent this season, but it still feels he needs someone with real vigor alongside him.
Perhaps Luke O’Nien can provide the tenacity, energy and goalscoring threat that Sunderland will miss in Power’s absence? O’Nien seems a little naive at times, and he certainly won’t spray cross-field passes at will, but he will provide the verve Sunderland need in the engine room.
Ross clearly hasn’t felt like he can trust O’Nien in that role until now, but considering three of our next five league fixtures are against teams struggling at the wrong end of the table - perhaps this is a great opportunity to develop what is clearly a talented player who perhaps needs time to adjust to his new surroundings?
It’s worth remembering, too, that O’Nien’s move to Sunderland is realistically the lad’s first move away from home. And, as odd as that might sound, it will likely be having an impact on his ability to succeed.
Some of the goals scored by O’Nien last season were truly brilliant, and could well aid Sunderland’s search for promotion if he is capable of replicating that kind of quality in this Sunderland side. Why not give him an opportunity to impress?
When given minutes earlier this week in the victory over Carlisle, O’Nien still seemed rather hesitant at times, but as the game wore on, the midfielder’s confidence seemed to grow. Fully committed in the tackle, and calm in possession, I thought O’Nien did enough to be given more minutes in the coming weeks.
Time is probably what O’Nien has needed, and Jack Ross has definitely afforded him enough to find his feet in the region; now, if given the chance, Luke will need to grab the opportunity with both hands.