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Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Third Round

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How Luke O’Nien embodies everything that Sunderland’s academy prospects should aspire towards

“It is no wonder O’Nien is starting to win over a fanbase on the banks of the Wear – there are few players more committed to the cause that I’ve seen in recent years”, writes Gary Engel.

Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Well, we’re off and running in this season’s FA Cup! How we have longed to be in the Third-round and now into the Fourth-round after our horrendous hiatus in League One.

We have Luke O’Nien to thank for our winner in the dying embers of the match on Saturday, only adding to his status on Wearside it would seem.

There has hardly been a bad word said of O’Nien this season and he continues to improve and win plaudits. That includes from his own manager Tony Mowbray in recent weeks, calling him ‘amazing’.

Of course, there was the recent article here that asked if O’Nien was on course to be a cult hero for the Black Cats... I’m not going to answer that, but it’s very positive for a player that has always played with his heart on his sleeve.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

What I do know, it hasn’t always been the case. Fortunately, there have been some who could see more to Luke O’Nien’s game and potential than he has perhaps displayed from time to time. Here are few words I wrote about the boy wonder back in June 2021 following a disappointing end to the season beginning with the makeup of our squad at that point:

Sunderland requires 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.

While some comments have been a little mixed regarding O’Nien, I feel we still haven’t seen what (he) is capable of. Sunderland’s threadbare defensive options have forced (then manager Lee) Johnson to continue to utilise O’Nien at the back.

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 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. 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 also appears to have all the attributes that Sunderland have lacked high up the pitch. 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. O’Nien effectively plays any role his manager asks, just as former Sunderland prodigy, Jordon Henderson, does for Liverpool.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

While O’Nien has improved again, so have our options in midfield.

But on Saturday, yet again, he demonstrated his energy and desire to burst forward just as I said in that previous article.

The entire landscape has shifted on Wearside since then, with only a few constants sticking around as the revolution builds some momentum.

One of those undoubtedly is O’Nien himself, and on current form and reliability could be here for some time to come. When we blooded our youngest-ever player in Chris Rigg on Saturday, he could do a lot worse than follow O’Nien’s professional lead.

Sunderland fans are a strange lot really. We often cheer a tackle as loud as a goal. We enjoy silky football as much as any football fan but equally don’t suffer fools. We crave commitment and players who will bleed for the badge.

We also take great pride in seeing our own players coming through or seeing a player turning the corner to improve while in the red and white stripes.

It is no wonder O’Nien is starting to win over a fanbase on the banks of the Wear – there are few players more committed to the cause that I’ve seen in recent years – well done lad!

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