Aiden O'Brien reveals his goalscoring aims and what Phil Parkinson has told him about where he will play
Aiden O’Brien is aiming to be the man to deliver regularly in front of goal for Sunderland – and believes that Black Cats’ attacking options will cause concern for any League One backline.
The versatile forward made his first appearance for the Black Cats in their 3-1 win at Gateshead, playing the final half an hour of the game in one of the two roles behind the striker.
It was a much-needed workout for the 26-year-old, who hadn’t played a competitive fixture since the end of February.
"It was definitely something that we needed,” he said.
"It's all good being out on the training ground working hard every day, but it's not the same as an actual match day experience. That's why today was so important because it's a different kind of test and it's so important to have that.”
While for O’Brien the game was about building-up match sharpness, for supporters it was a first chance to watch one of their summer signings in action.
There was a great deal of intrigue around the appearance of the South London-born forward, and in particular where he was fielded by Phil Parkinson.
Introduced just after the hour mark, O’Brien slotted in behind fellow substitute Will Grigg and alongside Lynden Gooch in an advanced midfield position.
It’s in that role – or indeed as the lone striker – that O’Brien wants to flourish this season, having admitted he has come to Wearside to ply his trade in a more central area after being forced out wide at Millwall.
Indeed, conversations were held with Phil Parkinson prior to his arrival about his best position, with both player and manager in agreement.
“I played on the left most of the time for Millwall because he saw me as kind of a ghosted striker, coming in off the left and taking chances that way,” explained O’Brien.
"That was fine, but I've come to Sunderland to play through the middle. That's my favoured position and I spoke to the manager about it before I signed.
"It means I'm closer towards the opposition goal where I can do what I do best - sniff out chances, create stuff and score goals.”
And goals are what O’Brien wants – and needs – to deliver.
Sunderland have been without a regular goalscorer for over 18 months, with nobody able to fill the void left by Josh Maja’s high-profile departure.
Last season, only Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire reached double figures for the Black Cats – so can O’Brien be the man to deliver regularly in front of goal?
"Of course,” he said.
"I back myself to score all the time. These games, it's nice to score in them but these are for getting fit and literally running around like a fly to get as many minutes in your legs as possible.
"Then when it comes to the crunch time, you can start thinking of the serious stuff.”
But O’Brien is under no illusions as to how tough a task it will be to force his way into the starting line-up for the season opener against Bristol Rovers.
Charlie Wyke was Parkinson’s preferred option up front for most of last season and it seems unlikely that much will change on that front in the short-term – although Will Grigg’s impressive cameo may have given Parkinson some food for thought.
Behind the lone striker, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch were in possession of the two number ten shirts when the 2019/20 campaign was curtailed and look to be in pole position again as the new season rapidly approaches on the horizon.
O’Brien, therefore, has some work to do to seal his place in the starting line-up – but is confident that any combination of Sunderland’s attacking options will cause problems in League One, having hailed the ‘exciting’ options on the club’s books.
“You've got people who have been in the game for a long time now, like Griggy, Wykey and then Maguire and Goochy as well.
"They've all played a lot of games and scored a lot of goals.
"We've got a good attacking base and any one of us on that pitch will cause problems in League One. I'm just looking forward to seeing what happens on the pitch because it's exciting.”
Sunderland still have two more pre-season friendlies to play before the third tier season begins, with Carlisle United set to visit Wearside on Tuesday before Harrogate Town provide the opposition on Saturday, August 29.
And for O’Brien, these games represent a real chance to build-up some momentum ahead of the new campaign – which will enable the forward to hit the ground running when the Gas visit the Stadium of Light on September 12.
"It's so important to get that run of games,” he admitted.
"Towards the end of the Millwal career it was kind of one in, one out and you couldn't really get momentum. That's why I made the decision to move here and push for a starting place and then hopefully hit the ground running from the first game of the season.
"Hopefully I can score some goals and help the team get promoted.”