Alex Neil gives interesting insight into how where he sees Luke O'Nien fitting into his Sunderland XI

Alex Neil says he sees Luke O'Nien as a midfielder who can improve Sunderland's attacking game, at least for now.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 11th March 2022, 11:59 am
Updated Friday, 11th March 2022, 11:59 am

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O'Nien's best position has long been the source of much debate on Wearside, with the versatile 27-year-old playing much of his football at full back and also impressing at centre back in certain spells.

O'Nien had almost permanently moved into midfield before suffering a shoulder injury last November, and it was there that Neil introduced him with the game against Fleetwood Town in the balance.

Neil also moved the energetic midfielder slightly further forward than where he operated in the opening months of the campaign, and was rewarded with a crucial goal.

Luke O'Nien celebrates his goal against Fleetwood Town

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"Having Luke back was really pleasing," Neil said.

"I've said before that in terms of the makeup of the squad, for me it's not got the variation that I would like. I think we need midfield players who want to get beyond the ball, hit the box, disrupt the back four. Luke provided that for us.

"I think he could easily be a running eight or a running ten for us, get in behind, get goals, and I think his energy and legs, his anticipation in the box really set us off the other night.

"What I would say is that he's played 30 minutes for me, so it's not an easy question to answer [his best position]," he added.

"I don't want to say, 'well I see him as that', and then in two weeks I play him at full back and people think, 'what nonsense has he been talking?'

"At this moment in time, I see Luke as a midfield player.

"But I don't see him as a deep-lying midfield player, I see him as one who one can break forward and score a goal. Equally, I think he can trigger the press from that central area because he's got really good mobility.

"I was really pleased with the influence and impact he had on the game the other night."

Neil also added that now sees Carl Winchester as a right-sided defensive player in his squad.

The head coach made some key half-time changes on Tuesday night to turn the game around, including moving to Winchester and Dennis Cirkin into a back three.

He explained why he feels Winchester is a good option in that role, saying: "We were hurt in the transition against MK Dons, so maybe that mobility has been a bit of a concern at times.

"Having Winnie and Dennis in there gives us good mobility. We knew we had to go for the game, which then meant at times we were going to have to defend 1-v-1. I was more comfortable then having that pace behind the ball, so we could deal with that counter.

"Winnie, being a midfield player/right back, to be honest I wouldn't even call him a midfielder, for us I'd call him a right back or a right-sided centre back. He's really good on the ball, and Dennis likewise, and that gives us a real platform."

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