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Talking Points: Sunderland fell to bits - but did O’Nien impress in his favoured midfield role?

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In the aftermath of a rather disappointing draw at home to Rotherham we’re looking at the talking points that emerged from the game. Did Luke O’Nien suit his new role? And what happened to Sunderland’s gameplan?

Sunderland v Rotherham United - EFL League 1 Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gameplan unravelled

After a bright start to the game in which Sunderland opened the scoring within the first minute, it felt like our gameplan unravelled after Aiden McGeady missed his opportunity to double the lead from the penalty spot.

During the opening thirty minutes, Sunderland looked sharper than the opposition and moved the ball well at times. However, after we missed the opportunity to double our lead, it felt like Rotherham grew in confidence and started to turn the tide of the contest.

From the missed penalty onward, we started to move away from our shorter passing game and looked to be more direct; but without Charlie Wyke at the forefront of our attack, we lacked an outlet.

When the game runs through our central midfielders, we look a much better side. We move the ball with purpose into dangerous areas allowing the likes of Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch time to create good opportunities. Yesterday, though, Sunderland attempted 94 long passes, and only 22 were successful - that’s a 23% success rate.

I don’t know if we panicked after missing the penalty, but it felt like the Lads resorted to a long ball game that just didn’t suit us. Ultimately, Rotherham grew into the occasion and grabbed their share of the spoils.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - EFL League 1 Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

O’Nien impressive in attacking role

Despite the draw, Luke O’Nien’s performance in a more advanced role was cause for optimism. O’Nien managed one key pass during last night’s game and largely refrained from spraying long balls, but his display off the ball what where he was impressive.

Sunderland often seem to lack energy and drive in the final third, but last night - especially during the opening thirty minutes - O’Nien hounded the opposition and prevented them from settling into the game. He also won the ball high up the pitch on several occasions, too.

As we resorted to hopeful long balls, O’Nien’s presence diminished and he wasn’t helped by some poor refereeing. It will be interesting to see if Ross looks to keep O’Nien’s energy higher up the pitch as he gives us something there that others struggle to replicate.

The former Wycombe man will need to improve on his attacking capabilities if he want to keep that position as his own, however, because he gave the ball away too many times and should have also had a crack at goal in the final minutes. Moving forward though, it’s another option for Jack Ross to utilise as our season continues.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - EFL League 1 Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We need to take our chances

Aside from McGeady’s missed penalty, Sunderland had other opportunities to put the game to bed, yet we just seemed to lack that killer instinct required.

Charlie Wyke’s miss late on was Sunderland’s only shot on target during the second half, and that effort coupled with several McGeady chances were Sunderland’s best opportunities to secure a three points. You would have liked to think that we were capable of scoring one more goal, but we just couldn’t find a way to do so.

What’s more, the Lads also botched a few opportunities to make something happen, as on a few occasions a stray pass or poor touch let the side down. We need to be more clinical in our play.

The league table still looks good, and the Lads are showing promising signs that they are moving in the right direction, but, ultimately, we need to develop and maintain a ruthless side to our games that allows us to really put other teams to the sword.

We’ve done it on occasion, but consistency is key.