Sunderland icon Kevin Phillips has urged Black Cats boss Phil Parkinson to start Aiden O’Brien at Gillingham on Saturday.
O’Brien has started the season as a rarely-favoured tool in Parkinson’s arsenal, with the Republic of Ireland international only opening three of his six League One appearances and being overlooked for any involvement in defeat to Portsmouth and Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Rochdale.
Parkinson had brought O’Brien to the North East this summer as his first addition of the window following his release by Millwall, for whom he had struck 44 goals and penned 16 assists for in 226 career appearances.
Phillips strongly feels Parkinson is making a mistake by not trusting the 27-year-old attacker more often, while suggesting the Sunderland gaffer is frustrating the Stadium of Light faithful with his recent team selection.
“They have struggled to find the balance for some time now,” Phillips told Football Insider. “We are either talking about the strikers or the defence. The balance is huge. If you get that right, you have got half a chance.
“Speaking to people last night there is a lot of disappointment in terms of Phil Parkinson’s team selection although [Charlie] Wyke scored again and is doing his bit for the cause. It’s worrying times at Sunderland. They have a really important couple of games coming up.
“Phil is working with the players every day but when you have players like O’Brien, a Championship player and Danny Graham who has played in the Premier League, maybe it is time to change things around and give them an opportunity.”
Sunderland slipped outside of the Play-Off positions by failing to convert their lead into three points at Rochdale during the week, and now face travelling to Gillingham as they strive to avoid a fifth league defeat on the bounce.
Phillips’ calls for Parkinson to trust O’Brien are also perfectly timed following the display seen at the Crown Oil Arena from Lynden Gooch, who may have provided the assists for both goals but otherwise struggled to build on a positive start.
Gooch’s piece of skill to turn the Rochdale defence inside out for Wyke’s opener was an impressive moment from the 24-year-old, whose deflected shot was later turned home by Bailey Wright. But the winger failed to complete eight of his 25 attempted passes, all six of his duels, turned over possession 14 times, offered no defensive support and only turned one effort on target, per SofaScore.
O’Brien, however, could present the offensive threat against Gillingham that Gooch often fails to bring to the show, as the ex-Millwall man left The Den with positive memories.
“I have made some enquiries because I know the people down at Millwall and they have given me some very good feedback about him,” Phillips told Football Insider. “I am excited to see this kid performs in League One.
“He has a bit of everything about him. He can play as a nine, a ten and he can play out wide. A player that gets himself in the box and can score a goal, I am very excited to see this lad play.”
O’Brien has so far averaged just 48 minutes per game over his six League One appearances, yet has been involved in three big chances to score and played 1.0 key balls, taken 1.5 shots and won 3.2 duels each appearance, per SofaScore, while finding teammates with each of his attempted crosses.