It’s still a very odd feeling, Sunderland winning a match but losing the war.
I remember that same feeling from the night we lost to Crystal Palace in Championship play-offs (not to be confused with our Under 23 loss on Monday), but unfortunately in the last few weeks could see the similarities. The worst thing at this point is the uncertainty for the future that has Sunderland fans quaking.
One thing we are all in agreement with, Sunderland need a serious rebuild – no half measures this time. Though as I’ve said previously, Sunderland do also require some stability, something, or someone to rebuild around.
There are few players that covered themselves in glory over the past few weeks, as demonstrated by who has been released. Also, not all those players had age on their side or the capacity to step up a level or two required of them.
We hear that Sunderland are locked in contract talks with several out-of-contract players, including who Kevin Phillips in recent months dubbed ‘Mr Sunderland’, Luke O’Nien.
While some comments have been a little mixed regarding O’Nien, I feel we still haven’t seen what the midfielder is capable of. Sunderland’s threadbare defensive options have forced Johnson to continue to utilise O’Nien at the back. Granted, recently, he may not have looked as sharp during his partnership with Sanderson, but I think he could look far better elsewhere in the side next season if he signs a new contract.
With that scenario in mind, Lee Johnson’s and Kristjaan Speakman’s thinking could turn to building a team around O’Nien. He has every attribute to make it at a higher level, he is enthusiastic, positive and has worked on every aspect of his game. He has the kind of attitude that every Sunderland player needs. He is still young but embodies everything that Sunderland’s academy prospects should aspire towards.
It is no secret that Luke O’Nien has his fair share of admirers in the Championship as some are currently reporting. I firmly believe we need players of Championship ilk to get us up - not players dropping down a division only for their heart not to be on Wearside.
By contrast, Luke O’Nien puts himself on the line for the side, he is a worker who busts a gut to get forward and has great energy - a player who will run all day; the kind of lad Peter Reid would have loved. He appears have all the attributes that Sunderland have lacked high up the pitch.
Two consecutive Sunderland managers, prior to Lee Johnson’s appointment, praised Luke O’Nien for his impressive defensive attributes, at the same time failing to use him further forward and stifled his other attacking credentials.
For one reason or another, seems incredible for a side clearly lacking real energy in the final third we haven’t utilised a player in a midfield role. But fleetingly, when he has been moved forward, he can also grab a goal. Against MK Dons, he stole in with a fine finish any striker would have been happy with on his left foot.
Luke O’Nien effectively plays any role his manager asks, just as former Sunderland prodigy, Jordon Henderson, does for Liverpool – there are some similarities.
So, if we can get O’Nien under contract, unleash him in midfield alongside Winchester. Between them, they would have everything to combat any League One midfield. They would give even a shaky defence protection and confidence.
Allow O’Nien to be a box-to-box midfielder and ghost into the area at every chance.
Then, I believe we’ll see the full potential and the real Luke O’Nien.