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Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round

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O’Brien’s contribution highlights the role that he can still play for Sunderland

Aiden O’Brien’s comments after bagging a hatty on Tuesday indicate he’s hungry to prove himself at Sunderland (unlike another of his current striking counterparts). Is there still a role that he can play?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

“I’ve been enjoying it, smiling. We play football at the end of the day, for me it’s the best job in the world and I love it.

“For me to go into training with a sad face being upset doesn’t really make sense because as much as you want to play, you still need to realise where you are and what job you are doing.

“Look at it (at Blackpool), I could have been down for two days, not trained properly, thrown my toys out of the pram. Would I have got a hat-trick? Probably not. Because I have done it right, I can say I’ve deserved that really.”

Aiden O’Brien after Blackpool 2-3 Sunderland, Aug 2021

Aiden O’ Brien’s signing was arguably one of our higher profile signings last summer under Phil Parkinson. Much was expected from a Republic of Ireland international who scored semi-regularly in the Championship.

There was a perception that he would drop down a league and fire a physical Sunderland side back up to the Championship. This was never the case.

Unfortunately, for an abundance of reasons, the move has yet to really work out. Whilst it has not been a true disaster, it is fair to say more was expected. O’Brien has never lacked effort or exemplary attitude. Many times last season, he was dubbed as the man doing all the dirty work for Charlie Wyke, who scored the goals and received all the plaudits.

Lee Johnson reinforced this point post-Blackpool when he said:

I thought last season he maybe didn’t get the credit he deserved. Charlie finished the chances but he often played better when he had Briz [O’Brien] occupying defenders and spaces, and showing that running power.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

There is a lot of truth in the Sunderland manager's comments. O’Brien is certainly not shy of putting himself about and is a tireless worker. His commitment to the cause is admirable, especially when he would probably even admit to himself that it has not gone the way he wanted thus far.

It made his hat trick contribution in the League cup win all the more pleasing. With Sunderland going down the route of youth, one may have assumed that it was the end of the line for O’Brien. However, based on the manager's comments, and now his hattrick, it can be assumed that Aiden O’Brien will have a role to play.

It is clear that in the early weeks of the season, he is not first choice.

Lee Johnson has preferred Ross Stewart flanked by Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady in Sunderland’s opening encounters.

As it has been highlighted on social media and the latest Roker Rapport pubcast and podcast, the wingers have yet to catch fire this season. Lynden Gooch’s much spoken about inconsistencies have yet to dissipate, whilst Aiden McGeady is out of sorts.

Heart of Midlothian v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With this in mind, and O’Brien’s sudden rise in form, it may be time for Lee Johnson to shake up his attacking options. The Irishman’s confidence is undoubtedly high after his cup exploits. O’Brien will be keen to prove that he can bring something different to an attack that is still struggling to get going.

His ability to play a number of positions can be argued as his strength and weakness. There is a dilemma that arises with his introduction to the starting 11. It is highly unlikely that Lee Johnson would drop Ross Stewart for him. Stewart has led the Sunderland line almost impeccably so far this season and dropping him would face an intense backlash.

This leads to the question as to whether you drop Gooch or McGeady.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With the opposition (Wycombe) in mind, I believe the physicality and doggedness that Aiden O’Brien could bring to the game would be perfect. Wycombe are an extremely physical team. They will not shy away from challenges. They will be tough, tenacious and borderline truculent.

This will not fear O’Brien. It is my sense that Lee Johnson may be thinking the same way too. Sunderland will need to win games differently this season and it is ideal to have a fabulous blend of players from different ilks that can contribute to win different games.

After Tuesday night's performance, it is clear that Aiden O’ Brien still has much to contribute.


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