Q: Luke O’Nien has seemingly played all over the place this season for Sunderland, and on Tuesday he started the game at right back, with Connor McLaughlin dropped to the bench. What is his best position, and where do you see his role being in Phil Parkinson’s side?
Craig Davies says...
Luke O’Nien must provide a real sense of reassurance to his managers. His ‘‘I’ll play anywhere, anytime, any position” attitude is an absolute gift.
His penchant for 100% effort regardless of positional weaknesses helps him maximise his effectiveness, despite his limitations. On Tuesday night I felt he helped provide a solid balance across the back four, and the other three members of our defence seemed more confident aside his energetic, never-say-die attitude, as opposed to Connor McLaughlin’s solid but sometimes lacklustre presence.
I’ve been a big advocate of giving Luke a long term, consistent run further up the field, but I’m beginning to think that despite his occasional positional confusion, he’s our best full back and last night the entire defence seemed more at ease and he definitely contributed to that.
Could anyone say we missed Conor McLaughlin? If the answer to that question is NO, then Luke may have to take another hit for the team and remain at full back, foregoing his natural and preferred position higher up the pitch. We’ve got a few competent lads up there. The same can’t be said for right fullback.
As for his best position? Does he even know?
Currently it’s just ‘somewhere on the pitch.’ But his unbridled energy is a real plus as a potential rampaging full back. So, for now, keep him there.
James Nickels says...
While ably being able to cover at right back - or rather, being able to be our first choice due to a serious lack of competition - the fact remains Luke O’Nien is best deployed in midfield.
His all-round game is among the most underrated and effective in the side in midfield, and he is arguably the only central midfielder who performs on a consistent basis (except from a difficult game against his boyhood team last Saturday).
He has a knack of turning up at the right time, in the right place in order to pick up a goal. For Wycombe, while in League Two, he was deployed as a number ten behind Adebayo Akinfenwa and scored ten goals in all competitions.
Look at those goals, and numerous others he has scored for the Lads - he is the only man in our midfield with a genuine ability to run beyond the attacking line and has phenomenal goal-poaching instincts for a man who has never played as a striker.
However, for now, maybe his flexibility and acceptance to merely play anywhere on the pitch is stopping him from playing in the middle and needs to play at right-back in the short-term. But, undoubtedly, I believe his long-term future lies in midfield.
I’m not sure he has the creative talents to play as a number ten consistently, but as a box-to-box midfielder, certainly. His stamina, all-round ability, energy, determination and willingness to run beyond the forward-line makes him perfect for the role.
Phil Butler says...
I feel like I’m in the minority of people who actually never wanted Luke O’Nien to be moved up the field from right back, and I for one am pleased that on Tuesday night he was moved back to the position he has most commonly played since signing for Sunderland.
Many point to his ten goals in his final season at Wycombe as they gained promotion from League Two as proof that he should be played in behind a striker at Sunderland, however under Gareth Ainsworth, O’Nien was playing behind Akinfenwa - I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed none of Will Grigg, Marc McNulty or Charlie Wyke are Adebayo Akinfenwa.
Whilst I will admit that O’Nien often looked good when playing alongside Wyke - the energy of the former Wycombe player helping to compensate for Wyke’s lack of mobility - I simply feel that O’Nien’s long-term development is as a full back. In that position his energy will always be needed, his first touch stands out and put simply, his ceiling is higher.
Sam Blakey says...
I’ve been having this discussing with my dad for a number of weeks now - while he argued that O’Nien should be in midfield every game due to his sheer enthusiasm and extremely high work rate, I still think he’s the best right back at the club.
I do agree that in some games a midfield of O’Nien and Dobson may be the way to go in order to simply out run the opponent. I think we’ve missed O’Nien at right back recently, as Conor McLaughlin has never really hit the ground running for us as yet.
The back four that started the Tranmere game is in my opinion our best one, with Willis and Lynch looking a solid partnership as well as Denver Hume improving drastically from what we saw at the start of the season, particularly going forward.
O’Nien has the right balance in his game too, and is adept both going forward and working with his back towards his own goal.
There is an argument that we will miss his energy in midfield which I completely understand, however Tuesday showed that with Dobson in the middle alongside Power we have enough in the tank in that position to last the full 90 minutes. While Dobson may not have done much in terms of creativity against Tranmere his sheer never-give-up attitude showed, with him chasing down almost every loose ball even after receiving an early booking.
One of the biggest positives to take from the Tranmere game has to be that we finally got the elusive clean sheet - hopefully that back four, with O’Nien in at right back, can keep it up and it is the first of many to come. Ha’way the lads!