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Reader’s Corner: Luke O’Nien - a Samurai without fear of death! De Jay writes in from Hawaii

“He’s a samurai without fear of death. He’s a bulldog!” Writing in all the way from Hawaii, RR reader De Jay waxes lyrical about Luke O’Nien, saying, “if we lose him we’ve lost what it means to be Sunderland.”

Sunderland AFC

I don’t get to see many matches actually, not since old Mr. Short was long on subsidizing the streaming fees; when he left they tripled while the league on watch fell. Add in that the required currency is always pound for pound outperforming my rebel colony greenback, plus an unholy time difference, and it’s usually just not worth the rub.

So I’m left with ESPN’s fickle and curious EFL1 selection of the fortnight. Sometimes I get lucky, and Monday was my lucky day...even though I had to work (banks don’t take holidays here, we’re too greedy for that) and watch the replay.

As it turns out, just about no one in Hawaii knows the true definition of football, and even those who do are bandwagon Prem team du jour sheep. That to say, I enjoy complete autonomy over this Supporter’s Club, and it’s extremely unlikely anyone is going to spoil the result of my replay before I indulge.

But enough context, let’s get down to it. I had watched the football/mud obstacle course that was Posh and Accrington Stanley and expected a tough slog.

I suppose it is no mystery that us yanks think of Brit football traditionally as the long ball game. Sunderland surely lived up to it for most of the afternoon. It looked a beautiful day from here, though the EFL announcer said the field had just thawed. As frozen mud probably doesn’t give a good roll I suppose sky jam is to be expected. Hoofing it forward is the easy part, the problem is having someone on the end of it that can make lemonade.

Charlie Wyke clearly cannot.

Sunderland AFC Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Now I realize he’s on a streak, but not having the pleasure of seeing most of his goals, after this game I’m left to wonder if he only scores when he stands still long enough for Aiden McGeady to bank a shot off him. Ross looked mobile, but for the most part ineffective... unless you count the ballistic removal of synapses from the most skilled centre-half in the league.

Posh, on the other hand, ostensibly knowing the nooks and crannies of its home tundra, managed to either play through their midfield or had that annoyingly productive right back carry it into the final third for them.

When their goal came, poor McFadzean had been turned out twice by that insultingly dashing Ward fellow, to include getting megged on international television. However, when Posh did score, Callum did his part by wisely deciding to clinch and then went with the leg sweep/sit out take down, taking Ward out of the equation.

Unfortunately everyone else, astounded by the quality of Callum’s judo, forgot to mark the one guy on the other team who keeps spoiling our fun, and it’s no surprise that Thompson creates a goal when he’s only got 15 yards to go. That number 10 they put on was lively, but he didn’t create anything; it was basically the Posh version of Wyke/McGeady.

Point being: yes LJ’s changes were mostly good, but if he made them 2 minutes earlier we probably win. I’m not putting this all on Callum, I’m putting it on LJ, who’s ultimately responsible anyway.

Sunderland AFC Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Oh this is all out of order – on to the midfield. I like Leadbitter. I’ve been reading some folks bash him a bit, but from what I could tell he was the one holding onto the ball. When those around him were making bad headers and one touch passes in a panic to get out of trouble, he’d latch on to it, make a rather simple turn, find some space, and everyone gets a breather. He doesn’t look the type to make something happen going forward, but he’s the solid base from which flair guys like McGeady and Jones can push off.

Power got about and helped us; I didn’t notice much else from him. Jones looks the business. I’d never take him off, honestly. Posh changed out their whole left side to even out their attack as the right was having a field day; if we’ve got Aiden on one side and Jones on the other, we don’t need to do things like that, because things can happen down both sides at anytime.

Get Jones the ball more and we will score more. McGeady is clearly quality, but it feels like we rely on him too much. He screwed up at least as many shots and key passes as he made.

The corners were mostly all disappointing. Thankfully his direct kicks are consistent. The problem is he’s not going to be able to save us all the time. He also looks like one of the former semi-pro players that get old and play Sunday league with people half their age.

Sunderland AFC Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

They can dominate with guile and superior skill, but they are still trying to figure out how to deal with their declining athleticism. He’s got good close control, but I saw him try some tricks that didn’t come off and he’d lose it in front of an exposed centre half in the centre circle. Well he’s saved us, so I won’t give him a hard time. I guess the best way to put it is I think he’s the best player in League One, even though I think I can outrun him.

On to the back line, let’s be brief where we can. Callum didn’t play all that bad, but he got outclassed by his mark in the 2nd half and I’m sticking with if he comes off earlier they don’t score. Google says Power was at right back, but I feel like he was in the midfield a lot. Winchester I hardly noticed, so there you go. Sanderson is a skilled athlete, I wish Ross would stop volleying off his dome.

My favourite Sanderson moment was that crunching tackle on Szmodics that left him grabbing his shoulder the rest of the game; which I believed more than all the other crying he did in trying to deceive the referee. A close second Sanderson moment was when he’s the last man, dealing with a bad pass, under pressure, and just chops the ball back without a moment of doubt. He’s not long for this team folks.

Yet his partner is Sunderland through and through. I love O’Nien the way I loved Honeyman and Watmore. He’s a bloody maniac, and in the scrappiest, ugliest game, I’d still love to watch him get scrappier and uglier. He’s got more than enough skill to play out of the back, but he’s also like a 5 foot hurricane of perpetual destruction without the slightest hesitation or apprehension. He’s a samurai without fear of death. He’s a bulldog. He could have turned that ball into his own net and I’d still love him. Did you see that dead fish diving face block?

He’s mental and he’s giving everything for this club, and all with this even keeled expression like “it’s just another day of putting my face in front of people shooting on goal.” If we lose him we’ve lost what it means to be Sunderland.

Sunderland AFC Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Oh yes, the subs. I’m on the fence a bit; they created the environment for McGeady to pull us even. The match reports are throwing me off here and maybe I’ve got it wrong, but McLaughlin appeared to shore up the hole at left back. Hume I didn’t notice much. Scowen is another in the vein of Onien. It was his tenacity that drew the foul in McGeady fatality range. Gooch, well I love having an American there, and he’s all heart, but he makes bad decisions. He never looked like beating their left back, but he kept trying to run by him down the line when he needed to pass. If I’m not mistaken he finally cut inside on him, lost control (again), but setup the chaos that Scowen pounced on to set the climatic stage.

All that to say, it was a fun watch, even though the better football came from the opposition mostly. For any mackems dreaming of a Hawaiian vacation, you can take some comfort in the fact that at least one person in Hawaii is dreaming of a Sunderland one. As a wise 20th century philosopher posited: “the seaweed is always greener, in somebody else’s lake.”

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