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Roker Roundtable: Does Luke O’Nien’s Sunderland future lie at right back or in central midfield?

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Where does Luke O’Nien’s long term future at Sunderland lie - as a right back, or in the centre of midfield?

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Q: Luke O’Nien - do you see him as a right back, or a central midfielder? Which position do you see him playing for Sunderland long term?

Tom Atkinson says...

Luke O’Nien’s determination and desire to be on the pitch will stand him in good stead throughout the remainder of his career no matter which position he fills.

Personally, I’d like to see him moved into a deep-lying midfield position moving forward. I think that his athleticism, tenacity and determination mean he’s got all of the tools to be a really effective defensive midfielder.

He lacks vision and creativity at times, which obviously could be a hindrance; however, in terms of having a player capable of sitting deep, disrupting attacks and then using his engine to move the ball up the field, O’Nien would be an excellent choice in my opinion.

Personally, I’d like to see Sunderland invest in a young right-back with some pace and quality in the final third. Oviedo’s distribution is such an effective weapon for us, I feel we need something similar on the right hand side. O’Nien doesn’t offer that, in my opinion, but he was never supposed to due to the fact he’s playing completely out of position.

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Chris Wynn says...

As we drifted into a crisis of running out of right-backs, O’Nien not only the met the call but has become our first choice in that position.

His attitude to the game means as long as he’s pulling on the red and white stripes he’ll be happy whatever position he’s asked to play. You could imagine he’d be the first to put his hand up if we have a keeper sent off and we’ve run out of subs!

He’s clearly still learning the position and some of his positioning was lacking to begin with but he’s growing nicely into the role. He’s got the natural instincts and with a bit of coaching has a fair chance of becoming a very good full-back.

If he is to progress at a higher level, it may be the best move for his career long term.

The worst scenario is that of what arguably happened with Gary Owers in the early 90’s.

He was moved to right back when John Kay was out, and had long periods there then moved back to midfield and so on. This meant his progression as a midfielder stalled and wasn’t given the time to be a top level full-back either.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Matthews was released or wanted to leave and a new right back was signed in the summer. Having said that, it would need to be a good signing to replace O’Nien if he keeps improving at this rate.

Sunderland v Walsall - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Mark Carrick says...

Luke O’Nien arrived as a young player making his way from the lower leagues.

Having performed very well in a promoted Wycombe Wanderers side, he joined a bigger club in Sunderland as a midfielder, likely a box-to-box midfielder in a similar vein to George Honeyman.

Having started the season against our Play-Off final opponents, Charlton, it is fair to say O’Nien found the initial step-up a tough one. Having moved cities and now living on his own for the first time, settling into a new side is always tough, especially one with huge expectations.

Jack Ross handled him superbly and gave him time to settle. In doing so, Adam Matthews’ checkered history of injuries struck, just as Academy graduate Denver Hume also picked up an injury. Luke O’Nien was asked if he’d ever played right-back and immediately answered positively. Only later would he admit to the fact it was on FIFA and never as a professional footballer!

Since coming into the side in a new position, O’Nien has rarely let anyone down. He has defended well and used his natural inclination to get forward when possible. He’s scored a few goals from this position and has shown he can develop into a modern-day right-back. He has clearly taken on all board all his colleagues and the management team have passed to him.

Having made this position his own I see no need to even consider renewing Adam Mattews’ contract. It would be sensible to replace the Welshman, especially if promotion is secured on Sunday, but O’Nien, like Denver Hume on the left, should now see his primary role as a full-back. Sunderland should also develop the youngster as such, for his long-term future is perhaps more assured in this new role.