Jack Ross gives big hint on Sunderland’s Adam Matthews & Luke O’Nien conundrum
Jack Ross admits that Luke O’Nien is likely to return to an advanced midfield role on a permanent basis.
After struggling for regular starts at the beginning of the season, O’Nien thrived in an unfamiliar right back role after both Adam Matthews and Donald Love suffered injuries.
The 24-year-old surprised everyone with his aptitude for the position but Ross remained keen on his abilities further forward.
Despite struggling to get into the XI earlier in the campaign, O’Nien was excellent playing off the striker when coming off the bench, scoring crucial goals against Shrewsbury Town and Barnsley.
After starting on the left side of midfield against Manchester City U21s last week, O’Nien moved into that familiar position and was a constant menace.
He was desperately unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as the Black Cats ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.
“It was something that ideally, he would have fulfilled that position to begin with but because of what we had available he had to play a different role,” O’Nien said.
“After 15 minutes we changed it and it allowed him to play in what I do think is his best position.
“It could be the biggest asset to us moving forward, in the second half you can see he is good at that [getting into the box].
“With George [Honeyman] absent we've not really had that.
“It was encouraging for us to see that from Luke.”
Ross has been boosted in that regard by his improving defensive options.
Matthews played 90 minutes against Man City U21s, his first appearance since limping out of the abandoned game at Accrington Stanley in early December.
Denver Hume has also returned to full training.
Hume is far more comfortable on the left of defence but did impress Ross on the other flank in a Carabao Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday at the start of the season.
Matthews was in fine form for Ross before that injury and is expected to reclaim his place in the side when AFC Wimbledon visit the Stadium of Light.
“Against Scunthorpe it was very hard for me not to play Adam,” Ross said.
“I had to think long and hard about it, for two reasons.
“One, Adam is a really good player and his form over the last couple of months was really good, and he's a natural full back.
“But Luke's performances there have been really good, and gave me more of a headache than I initially anticipated.
“You saw against City what Luke gives us [further forward], and I do think the spell at right-back has actually helped bring that out.
“The confidence that he gained from it, he feels at home at the club and on the pitch.”