Aiden O'Brien watch: The key questions answered on his Sunderland debut - and the one that remains
Many things have changed in football over the last six months, but one thing hasn’t – that feeling of anticipation as a Sunderland debutant enters the pitch for their first outing.
And while Sunderland supporters weren’t able to watch Aiden O’Brien’s first outing in red and white in person, they were able to keep tabs on the summer signing via social media and a live stream.
The Republic of Ireland international entered the fray in the 60th minute, playing the final half an hour in the Black Cats’ comfortable 3-1 win.
And his appearance helped answer a number of questions on his preferred role, the qualities he will bring to Sunderland and how Phil Parkinson sees his role in the team.
Here, we take an in-depth look at O’Brien’s debut:
The key questions answered
In truth, it is difficult to give an accurate judgement on O’Brien’s performance given he played just half an hour against a tiring National League North side – in a period in which Sunderland were dominant.
But given it was O’Brien’s first match action since February, we can take heart from the fact he didn’t look off the pace.
Far from it, in fact. He was a lively presence following his introduction, buzzing around the area and linking-up well with Lynden Gooch and Will Grigg.
While he didn’t have any clear sights of goal, his off-the-ball movement caused issues for the Gateshead backline and created space for those around him. He helped raise the tempo for the Black Cats too, with Phil Parkinson urging his side to move the ball quickly and with purpose as they looked to turn the screw following a raft of substitutions.
So when it comes to quality, the early signs are positive.
Of course, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from this game, but we may have a clearer picture of O’Brien’s traits and quality following the games with Carlisle and Harrogate in the coming week.
And those games may also help us answer one question which remains somewhat unanswered.
And the one that remains…
The key question that remains unanswered is where O’Brien’s long-term future in the Sunderland team lies.
O’Brien himself has made no secret of the fact he prefers to play centrally, having been pushed out wide onto the left during his final few years at Millwall.
He played as one of the two advanced midfielders, supporting striker Will Grigg, during the win at the International Stadium.
But it would be no surprise to see him given an opportunity to stake his claim for the number nine shirt in one of Sunderland’s two remaining friendlies.
Versatility is no bad thing, of course, but it would be nice to see O’Brien nail down a permanent role within the side – for only with that kind of consistency can momentum be built-up, and with that comes goals.
And that’s something Sunderland desperately need this season.