Luke O'Nien opens up on the work behind the scenes powering his superb Sunderland form at right back

In the second half Luke O'Nien was caught perhaps a little high up the pitch and Tom Flanagan certainly let him know about it.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 07 January, 2019, 06:00

It didn’t happen that often and so it can be easy to forget that he is playing out position.

On the toughest afternoon yet to be filling in at right back O’Nien thrived again.

Defensively he has not let anyone down, while his game awareness and habit of making good late runs into space produced another goal.

“Playing at right-back you can see the game unfolding and I saw a bit of space,” O’Nien said.

“I had Tom calling me back so I was half-thinking, ‘What do I do? I want to get up there!’ Jamo put in a great ball and with a ball like that you have to finish it nicely for him.

“It was nice to get the boys off to a good start.

“As a defender Tom would always want the reassurance of being next to him, which I understand, but equally if I put the ball in the back of the net we don’t have to run back for a couple of minutes because we’re celebrating.,” he added.

“It’s cat and mouse, really.

“I like having Flans talking to me during the whole game and if I want to edge forward he brings me back when it’s not right to.

“He talks to me the whole game and you’ve got to make the right judgement calls at the right time like I did for the goal and he’s a good guy to have next to me.”

That decision making has been a big reason why the 24-year-old has made such a success of his unlikely switch.

It is clearly in part down to good instinct, something supporters saw in some excellent cameos in attacking midfield.

It is also just a reflection of an insatiable appetite to learn and improve.

When O’Nien says he’d be happy to give centre-back a go if it came to it, you know he means it.

“Football’s all about decision-making and wherever you are on the pitch you’ve got to make the right decision,” he said.

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“I’ve got great people around me giving me advice so when I go out onto the pitch I’ve got freedom and the understanding of what I need to do.

“When I’ve got Geads and Gooch in front of me and Maja just in front of them, you play at right-back and they’ll make you look good.

“I’m loving playing right-back but if the gaffer wants me to play in midfield or at centre-half, I’ll play there. It’s just about game understanding and you’ve got to adjust to what’s in front of you.

“I’ll be looking at the game and looking at my own game and looking to improve on it before we go again on Tuesday,” he added.

“Normally when I sit down and go through the footage it’s me, Potts (John Potter), Fowls (James Fowler), and Maja usually comes along.

“I jump in with Maja’s clips and he jumps in with mine because I’m just always with Maj. We just sit there in the [Academy of Light] media room with the analysis guys, they’re first class, and go through every clip. We pause it, rewind it, and they’ll say that’s good or bad, you should do this or you can move here. It’s just total analysis.

“I learn a lot from that because the game goes by very quickly and sometimes we’re talking about being half a yard inside and that can be the difference between the ball going inside you.

“Every little bit of advice they give me, I put it all together to improve.

“You’re looking for marginal gains as an individual and if every individual bring those improvements together, you’ve got a great team performance.”

It was another fine afternoon for O’Nien, who Jack Ross admits is playing himself into contention for a regular spot.

The only frustration was that superb start did not end with three points.

“The way we started the first half, I thought the game should have been out of sight going into the second half,” O’Nien said.

“We had chances in the first half to go two, maybe 3-0 up and then it’s a different game – they have to start coming at us even more and with the players we’ve got, we’ll just pick them apart.

“When you’ve only got a one-goal lead you always run the risk. In the dressing room we were disappointed not to come away with three points. We came here looking for that.

“After the game you look back on it and their record here is good, it’s a tough place to come to but we wanted three and we’re slightly disappointed we didn’t get them.”