The extra work behind Luke O’Nien’s first goal as he opens up on Sunderland challenge and ‘education’

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There will be many more goals scored this season but few will be greeted with such joy as Luke O’Nien’s.

The 23-year-old has quickly established himself as an immensely popular figure, his enthusiasm infectious and his dedication absolute.

Translating that to success on the pitch has been harder, however.

Jack Ross has admitted that the midfielder was perhaps overthinking his game, the manager and coach John Potter taking him aside to offer reassurance and tell him to focus on his strengths.

With ten minutes to go at Montgomery Waters Meadow, Ross sensed an opportunity.

O’Nien took it.

“The gaffer told me to go on, and he told me to score actually,” O’Nien said.

“He said, ‘There’s a goal here for you’. I think I did a one-two with Goochy in the end, and I’ve thanked Lynden about a million times for playing me in.

“I just managed to get my head down, and get my foot through it into the bottom corner. It was nice because being 1-0 up with not long to go, it was difficult for the boys.

“So getting the second one helped the team get to the final whistle without any problems. It was nice to let the boys have a little bit of a relax towards the end.”

It speaks volumes for the midfielder that while there is frustration at a lack of playing time, he sees only positives in the ‘education’ he is getting at Sunderland.

“There’s always going to be an element of frustration when you’re not playing, that goes for anyone,” he said.

“Everyone wants to play every minute, but at the same time, the opportunity I’ve got here is huge. I come in every day and work as hard as I can.

“Even if I’m not in the team, I’m trying to push the boys that are playing. It’s important everyone’s doing that.

“I’ve still got loads to learn, I’ve played all my games in League Two and it’s a step up. This club is huge, and it takes time to adapt. “The minute I stop learning, I’d get more frustrated, but I’m learning every day and that’s the most important thing.

“The gaffer is always talking to me, and the rest of the lads too,” he added.

“Catts leads by example, he’s always giving me advice around the training field and it’s only helping me. I’d like to have more minutes, but everyone would say that. I’m going to carry on working hard, and if I get a minute, I’ll work my socks off for a minute.

“I just want to get on the pitch, but if not, I’ll be pushing the boys who are playing week in, week out.

“Every day is an education.

“The depth of your squad is very important, and hopefully it’s something that will set us apart,” he added.

“If you look at the team that first started the season, it almost certainly won’t be the team that finishes the last game. You need options, and the depth of the squad is very, very important.

“That’s an advantage for us. It’s an advantage in the matches, and it’s also an advantage in training because we have so many good players. I remember looking across the bench in the last home game, and it was exciting just to see the firepower that we had there. “You’re talking about experienced players who know what it’s all about. That’s really exciting for me. It’s a great place to be to learn.

“Everyone’s got different backgrounds and strengths, so when these different challenges come, you’ll have players who are able to step up and show their strengths at different times during the season.”

Though he seemed an unlikely goalscorer on Saturday, Ross expects more of the same.

O’Nien scored some eyecatching goals for Wycombe Wanderers last year and the Black Cats boss described him as a ‘fine finisher’ after he opened his Sunderland account.

It is somthing he works regularly on and the Black Cats could be set to reap the benefits.

“I managed to put the ball in the net, but it was Goochy who put me through,” O’Nien said.

“A couple of days ago, I was outside with Jimmy Walker and he was feeding me balls.

“He eventually had to stop because of his hamstrings, but I’m dragging the goalies out all the time. The younger goalies come out with me.

“I might have been the one that put the ball in the net, but there are so many people that have helped me get to this stage. I’ve only scored one, I want to score a lot more.

“Personally, it was a good day for me, and it’s a great day for the club because it’s another three points.”

Unprompted, a glowing tribute for Sunderland’s support follows.

“The fans were superb, I think some of them might be a bit sunburnt. The fans are fantastic, that goes without saying. They’re incredible.

“I find it amazing every time. It’s something special seeing them there – I’m just happy we could get the points for them.”

Few would begrudge O’Nien success this season.