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Could Luke O’Nien help to solve Sunderland’s midfield issues?

As we continue our search for a strong central defensive midfielder, could our captain move forward and add some bite to the engine room? We asked our writers for their thoughts

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says…

It looks to me as though O’Nien’s enforced switch to central defence last season was a career changer for him at Sunderland.

When the season started, he was a regular at centre back with the captain’s armband on his sleeve and Danny Batth, the man he deputised for last term, on his way to Norwich.

The club clearly saw O’Nien as the type of modern, ball-playing centre half they wanted to build this new era of football around, and he’s certainly risen to the challenge.

He’d never really made it as a midfielder at Sunderland (the position he’d originally joined us to play) and centre half was an upgrade on his previously successful stint at right back.

Whilst I was initially reluctant to accept O’Nien’s new defensive role, based on his lack of height and my disappointment at Batth’s departure, I have to say that he’s made a success of it.

He’s not just a tough-tackling, ‘heart on his sleeve’ battler, either. He behaves like an experienced pro, reads the game well, is positionally astute and is now very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Could Jenson Seelt slot into central defence and and free up O’Nien to play in midfield? Absolutely. I’ve been impressed with Seelt and he like looks an assured, cultured defender who’ll grow into the role.

However, could O’Nien play in midfield now after struggling there in the past? I think so. He’d previously looked a bit out of his depth in the centre of the park but he’s now a mature performer and I think he could be ideal in the Corry Evans holding role.

The question is, does a club that based its defensive game around O’Nien’s qualities really want to scrap that plan by moving him into midfield, and does O’Nien want to be switched around yet again after finally establishing himself in one position?

I’m not so sure. Time will tell.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

I’ve been advocating this for a while now, but to no avail so far!

I believe Jenson Seelt is probably ready to assume his proper position in the centre of defence alongside Dan Ballard. We’ll never know if we don’t give him a run of games and give the centre back pairing of Seelt and Ballard a chance to bed in.

O’Nien’s industry, enthusiasm, tackling and passing will be a more than useful fillip for our midfield. His move could also facilitate a break for Jobe, who looks fatigued and has definitely lost some of his early season zip and zing.

This would also enable Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah to push on a bit more often, giving a different dimension to our attacking play. I prefer Neil pushed up into more attacking positions, as he’ll try to play the killer pass and has a goal or two in him.

O’Nien can play right back and I would’ve played him there against Hull, where his pace might’ve helped us down that flank.

All in all, I feel we have options in the existing squad that could be worth a try as we try to find our mojo again.


Malc Dugdale says…

If we don’t sign another defensive midfielder in this window, I’ll have a lot of questions for the recruitment team, but if that’s the case, this is a decent option for both the club and for O’Nien.

It’s been a very long time since the skipper and acknowledged utility man has played in the middle of the park, but with the club needing him there and with others looking strong for areas he’s covered, now is probably the time.

The lads who are destined to fill the centre back spots aren’t really being treated fairly or given a fair go with O’Nien ahead of them. He’s a battler with a good leap and who’s strong in the tackle, but those qualities will be good alongside the likes of Pierre Ekwah and Jobe in the middle.

His leadership in the middle of the park will also be very useful. Indeed, we may even see him get a few more goals as he did in the early days.

He’s already a ‘Sunderland lifer’ and may one day manage or coach this side, but I’d be happy for his next progression to be into the central midfield slot.

He’ll do his best and will leave every bead of sweat on the park, which is exactly what we will need until a better option lands for us.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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