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Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One

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Reader’s Corner: Lee Johnson & Luke O’Nien - the polarising pair that are defining a season

Kevin – AKA The American Mackem – takes an in-depth look at two people who are playing pivotal roles in our season. Fancy writing? RokerReport@Yahoo.co.uk - send us an email!

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

LJ and L09 are the subjects of constant controversy and split opinions within the SAFC fan base and for understandable reasons. However, they also seem to be some of the key catalysts of the team when things are going right. I’ve taken a deeper look at the two in what I think are the important characteristics that are beginning to define our campaign (and in the best ways).

The gaffer is oft criticised for what boils down to a few qualities. Streakiness, odd choice of words in interviews, and seemingly peculiar personnel decisions, whether in the starting XI or substitutions.

Streakiness is an interesting criticism for me because it’s much to the nature of football at this level to go on runs both of the positive and negative sort. After the Ipswich game Johnson has now been in charge of Sunderland for 48 league games sporting a 24-12-12 record. The record comes out to 1.75 points per league game which comes out to 80.5 points at the rate over the course of a season. For sure not what we’re looking for on Wearside this season but also far from deserving the sack in my opinion considering he surely hasn’t fully turned over the squad the way he’d like to in an ideal world. And, if he’s as streaky as his critics say, he’s one good run away from his average from getting us to an automatic spot.

Burton Albion v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Interviews are another area that have beleaguered Johnson’s reputation at times in the past and even very recently with his now infamous “long term project comments”. I think it’s worth mentioning that two things factor into this from my perspective.

1. This is by far the biggest club, with the hottest spotlight, and highest expectations he’s coached at in his career.

2. Said career is still in its early stages.

Johnson is still very much an “up and coming” manager. Live interviews can be difficult especially in the heat of the moment after a match. Does Johnson need a bit more clarity of speech in his post match interviews and pre match pressers? At times, yes. Do I expect him to be fully adjusted to the amount of scrutiny that will inevitably hang on his every word? No.

Both of these qualities can be bound together by an essential characteristic of Johnson’s managerial personality. Passion. I believe this to be the central reason for Johnson’s “Streakiness” and his interview comments.

It’s also the key to why I believe he was hired for the job and the reason he will ultimately be successful at the club and has the potential to be an SAFC legend.

After a big win and during any of our runs of good form (of which there have been several) Johnson can be seen fist pumping in the technical area, applauding and firing up the Roker End, and celebrating with his staff.

It’s also his passion that makes him, as advertised, a great motivator of men. Yes, it leads him to high highs and low lows as our form goes, and yes, it leads him to arrogant “give me Arsenal or Tottenham” quips and defensiveness when form is poor. But, his passion has the potential to galvanise a team for a special season and I believe he will do just that.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One
Just look at his face!
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

This leads us to the final criticism of Johnson, his team and sub selections, and allows us to look at another polarising figure in Luke O’Nien.

Johnson has made comment on several occasions that he prefers players who not only fit his system but can also slot into several positions because of their versatility. Many of the signings made in his short reign fit this very mould.

In fact, if you look up and down the roster, all but a handful of senior players can play at multiple positions and within multiple systems on the pitch.

The best example of this is of course, Luke O’Nien. This versatility has and will continue to allow us to cope with injuries and change shape on the fly as Swiss Army knife players slot in where needed.

And while these players may not be world class at their secondary places they have proved time and again to be more than proficient. It can lead to a fair bit of head scratching when team news is announced, but also must be a scouting nightmare for our opposition.

Luke O’Nien alone has played every defensive position at one point or another, holding midfielder, central, attacking, and even out wide on a few occasions. And no one can doubt the lad’s heart for the club. Yes, he will make mistakes but I’d argue his positive performances outnumber his poor ones 3 to 1.

Ultimately, I think this criticism of Johnson is one of the qualities I appreciate the most.

Adaptability is a hugely valuable asset and players like Luke O’Nien, who fit that mould and give miles of heart are more than welcome in any time I support!

Andy’s Player Ratings: Cambridge United 1-2 Sunderland - Massive three points for Johnson’s men!

FEATURES!

On This Day (27 Nov 1949): Happy Birthday to former Sunderland star Dennis Tueart - 72 today!

MATCH PREVIEWS!

Score Predictions: Can Sunderland go one better than they did in midweek?