Luke O’Nien on that Walsall clearance, Sunderland ambitions and loving life at right back

Luke O’Nien is relishing his extended stay in the Sunderland XI and says his move to right back has been a great learning curve.

Thursday, 21st March 2019, 6:00 am
BFC 0-0 SAFC League1 12-03-2019. Picture by FRANK REID

O’Nien drew stellar reviews for his efforts in the 2-1 win over Walsall last Saturday, and the popular summer signing is grateful for the support he’s had in making his new role a major success.

“It’s been a good learning curve for me,” he said.

“Playing right-back is not too much different from playing in the middle, you’ve just got to slightly adapt your thinking and your positioning. I’ve got good people around me who are helping me all the time.

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“I’ve enjoyed my transition from midfield to right-back and it’s nice to be contributing to the team on a weekend.

“A lot of people have helped me to build my game and I’ve improved a lot as a person since I’ve come here. Hopefully it can continue for the rest of the season.”

Jack Ross was full of praise for O’Nien after that win over Walsall, the Sunderland manager vindicated in his decision not to move the former Wycombe Wanderers man back into midfield.

Ross did add, though, that O’Nien’s attitude and willingness to learn means that he could probably make a go of any position on the park.

And after his stoppage time clearance against Walsall, O’Nien joked that he might have his eye on adding another string to his bow.

“I’ve always fancied myself as a goalkeeper” he said.

“I used to always put the gloves on when we’d go out for a kick-around with my mates. I still do.

“Against Walsall I had a little switch to left-back and I headed one away from not too far off the line. Jon [McLaughlin] probably had it covered, I was just giving him a little rest for once!”

O’Nien is one of many players whose workload Ross will managing carefully over the international break.

The Checkatrade Trophy final will be Sunderland’s 50th game of the season, and they will play another eight in April alone.

There has been some concern about the Black Cats losing ground in the next couple of weeks but O’Nien pointed to that stat as one reason to try and view the break as a positive.

“I didn’t know that but the boys are looking good for 50 games,” O’Nien said.

“It’s credit to all the staff that the boys are feeling fresh.

“I think we’ve got a very good squad. You probably can’t even remember who started the first game of the season because the squad’s changed all the time. You can put anyone in any position and they can carry out the job.

“We’ve got a hell of a squad here and we’ll need everybody for the final push between now and the end of the season.

“We’ve had a lot of games recently so psychologically it might benefit us that we’ve got a little rest and we can flip that and say we’ve got an advantage over everyone else in having a little rest and putting the pressure on them to pull away from us.

“We’ll be looking at the results on the weekend and it’s very much in our hands if we keep winning games we’ll be in a good position.”

Regardless of position on the pitch, O’Nien is relishing the chance to try and help write a new chapter of Sunderland history.

“It’s a big thing to have on your CV,” he said.

“To win promotion last year [with Wycombe Wanderers] was a big thing for me and for the club, so to do it again this year would be special.

“We’ve got the cup final to look forward to, then nine league games left and every one of them is going to be a cup final.

“We’ve got a chance to be a part of a special season. I know the fans will be there backing us, so it’s very exciting for us.

“I’ve only been [to Wembley] as a spectator, I’ve never set foot on the pitch so for me it will be a dream come true to play there. For my family and my friends and for everyone in the area it will be a special occasion.

“I know a lot of people booked hotels while we were in the semis, maybe even the quarters, so it was big for the area.

“It will be a sell-out so it will be a good day for the club and our job is to go out onto the pitch and deliver.”