When Sunderland hit the road, they tend to do better under Lee Johnson. They’ve only won once in the league at the Stadium of Light with the new manager at the helm.
However, on the road, they’ve yet to lose. A swashbuckling 3-0 victory over MK Dons summed up the type of attacking displays Johnson’s men have put in on the road but for all the attacking intent on Tuesday night, it was not a forward player who stole the show.
Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady were able to add to their tallies but the man who caught the eye the most was Luke O’Nien.
The 26-year-old hadn’t started a match under Johnson until now but he was an imperious figure for the Black Cats, helping them to victory in the Papa John’s Trophy.
O’Nien only returned from a dislocated shoulder in the 1-0 win over Shrewsbury and thus, had managed just six minutes since Phil Parkinson was replaced back in November. That was until last night when the former Wycombe man managed 90 minutes.
It was the complete performance from the returning midfield player. Under Parkinson, O’Nien was favoured at right wing back but on this occasion, he began in the middle of the park before switching to left-back when Callum McFadzean went off.
He had no trouble in either position, demonstrating immense physical capabilities. In total, the Hemel Hempstead born man won 100% of his duels during the encounter – a perfect 12 from 12 and considerably more than any player on either side.
O’Nien was victorious in eight tackles, producing three interceptions and winning four aerial duels. As far as defensive displays go, it was perfect.
The midfield general won five more tackles than anyone else on the pitch and also won more aerial duels than the entire 21 players that featured on Tuesday. O’Nien’s performance simply demonstrated what a huge miss he’s been over the last two months.
It was a resolute and compact display, one that was summed up beautifully by O’Nien’s clearance off the line in the first half.
It looked for all the world as though MK Dons were going to score, but he managed to clear it away in the nick of time. It was a game-changing moment with the score only 1-0 to Sunderland at the time.
O’Nien was everywhere for Johnson on Tuesday night, and although he didn’t score, he undoubtedly stole the show. He repeatedly broke up the play and without him Sunderland would have been worse off.
He has to start when they play MK Dons again at the weekend.