Jack Ross says Luke O’Nien is undergoing an education at Sunderland and can be pleased with his contribution.
The 24-year-old joined from Wycombe Wanderers in the summer but has found starts at Sunderland hard to come by as he adapts to a new club and way of playing.
With George Honeyman missing with an ankle knock and fellow midfielders Dylan McGeouch and Lee Cattermole out through injury, O’Nien - who has impressed from the bench in recent weeks - was given his chance.
O’Nien started alongside Max Power in central midfield and competed well against Walsall, with the two sides having to meet again a week on Tuesday in the FA Cup second round replay.
O’Nien came off the bench to score in the 4-2 win over Barnsley last week and his energy and dangerous runs into the box have added another dimension to Sunderland’s attack.
He had earned a start at Walsall and Ross was pleased with the midfielder.
Ross said: “He did well, he is still a work in progress, he is still a very young man and adjusting to a different way of playing all the time, we change our system during games as well, so all of that is an education for him.
“He can be pleased with his contribution, he is effective in the final third with his energy.
“There was probably more of an onus on him as being an out and out midfielder given how stretched we were in that area, he can be pleased.”
Sunderland host Notts County in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night. O’Nien will hope to have done enough to keep his place.