Luke O'Nien reveals his thoughts on new role and why it took time to settle at Sunderland
Luke O'Nien's Sunderland career was up and running before he knew it.
Just three days after signing for the Black Cats, the 24-year-old midfielder was thrust straight into the first team to face Charlton on the opening day of the League One season.
With Sunderland 1-0 down at half-time, O’Nien was substituted at the break and watched from the sidelines as Jack Ross’ side recorded a dramatic comeback against the Addicks.
After winning promotion to the third tier with Wycombe Wanderers last campaign, O’Nien was expected to be a key player for the Black Cats following his arrival on Wearside.
But, despite regular appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy and FA Cup, the midfielder had to wait until the end of December to earn another league start.
When it did come, away at Portsmouth on December 22, O’Nien was’t playing in his customary central midfield role and instead deputised for the injured Adam Matthews at right-back.
So was O’Nien comfortable moving away from his natural position?
“I told Potts (John Potter) the assistant yes so if he asks yes,” said O’Nien when asked if he’d ever played full-back before. “But I can’t remember I don’t think I have.”
“Yes was the right answer when he asked me but it’s just about game understanding, positional awareness from playing in midfield.”
Yes was certainly the right answer and, after marking his return to the starting XI with a goal at Fratton Park, O’Nien has now started Sunderland’s last seven games in the vacant berth.
Sunderland fans have quickly taken to O’Nien in recent months, due to his recent performances and bubbly persona.
But, by his own admission, the player’s first few months on Wearside were a bit of a struggle.
“Transition takes time, for some people it takes them not as long, others it takes longer. Some people don’t settle at all,” said O’Nien
“It took me a little while to settle, the day I set foot in this club I made sure I worked hard everyday but that still does not guarantee results.
“It puts you in the best position to get results but it’s only now it’s coming together nicely and I’m going to do my best to continue.”
The move to Sunderland also marked a significant step up for O’Nien, who was plying his trade in League Two before moving to the Stadium of Light.
The rise in quality also made it difficult to adapt, but O’Nien believes his own game is improving as a consequence.
“With the squad we’ve got, we’ve got Geeds (Aiden McGeady) who was playing Champions League, Catts (Lee Cattermole) who’s had numerous games in the prem. We didn’t have that at Wycombe,” said O’Nien.
“We had some very good players I’ll tell you that, but equally here we’ve got some unbelievable players and it’s great to be playing alongside these people because they only improve your game.”
O’Nien has become a popular figure in the dressing room too, and is enjoying the camaraderie at his new club.
He also keeps a close eye on his former side, who are holding their own in League One and sit 13th in the table.
“Listen I love the squad at Wycombe and the squad here is the same, I had a really good relationship with everyone at Wycombe,” O’Nien added.
“I always check the results at Wycombe, I made some really good friends there and the boys here are fantastic as well.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with a lot of the team (at Sunderland) and hopefully we can continue working together and nail down that first spot in the league.”
So how has O’Nien found his new role?
“Really enjoyable,” said O’Nien when asked how he’s found playing full-back this season.
“With the likes of Goochy (Lynden Gooch) in front of me, Flans (Tom Flanagan) and Jack (Baldwin), all the defenders they make me look very good.
“It’s easy playing with Goochy in front of me, I just give him the ball and he works his magic and I try to support him to the best of my abilities.
When asked which position he prefers playing, O'Nien replied: “I just want to be on the pitch.
"If the manager wants me to play right-back I will keep playing there, I’m loving it.”
"If he puts me back into midfield I will give my all and perform to the best I can, if he needs me anywhere on the pitch I'm more than happy to put in a good performance."