Just like that, everything looks a lot rosier at the Stadium of Light – certainly in terms of performances.
Although Sunderland drew 1-1 with Wimbledon on Tuesday evening, their progress was halted due to eight first-team players missing through a COVID-19 scare.
It was a huge shame, especially given the 4-0 drubbing they handed Lincoln last weekend.
Due to the sheer amount of absentees on Tuesday, it meant that Lee Johnson was able to hand a rare start to summer signing Aiden O’Brien.
The winger hadn’t been seen since the beginning of November when he took to the field in the Papa John’s trophy against Fleetwood.
He has started only six times in all competitions since arriving but this was perhaps one of his most lively displays yet. Although he never really looked like scoring, he gave the Wimbledon defence a torrid evening with his tricky dribbling.
While he was on the pitch, O’Brien managed to perform three successful dribbles, providing two key passes in the process.
Furthermore, the attacker also completed 88% of his passes in what was an assured display. It was needed too given how many players were missing.
Yet, there is a huge takeaway from this performance.
Just over a year ago Phil Parkinson took the decision to axe Aiden McGeady from the squad. He was banished from the first-team picture and loaned to Charlton. He hadn’t played for the Black Cats in 2020 at all until Johnson’s first game against Wigan.
Of course, he was never going to set the world alight considering how much football he’s missed but he did claim an assist against Lincoln last weekend.
That being said, it was always Parkinson’s wish to get rid of him completely. Towards the end of 2019, the former Sunderland boss transfer listed the Irishman and considering his colossal wages of £31k-a-week, few can blame him for wanting rid from a financial point of view.
Although he’s only just come back into the side, the Mackems could honour Parkinson’s wish if O’Brien continues to demonstrate the form he showed on Tuesday evening. A similar player in terms of their dribbling, he has the ability to become a key player and a thorn in the opposition.
Speaking about O’Brien after he signed, Kevin Phillips said: “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.”
If he continues to play well, it’s a distinct possibility that McGeady’s time in the north-east could finally come to an end.
After all, there are plenty of wingers in the squad and Sunderland are right on the cusp of the EFL’s wage restrictions.