Following two failed attempts of securing a return to the Championship, Sunderland currently find themselves in a promising position to achieve promotion this season.
Since opting to replace former manager Phil Parkinson with Lee Johnson in December, the Black Cats have experienced a superb start to life under the guidance of the 39-year-old.
Having lead Sunderland to glory in the EFL Trophy last month, Johnson will now be determined to secure a top-two finish in League One.
Yet given that Hull City and Peterborough United are also vying for automatic promotion, the Black Cats cannot afford to falter in the coming weeks as doing so will result in them having to rely on the lottery of the play-offs next month.
Although Johnson’s priority between now and the end of the season will be to pick up as many points as possible in the third-tier, he will also have to resolve the futures of two his key players.
Despite featuring regularly for Sunderland during the current campaign, Luke O’Nien and Charlie Wyke’s existing deals at the Stadium of Light expire this summer and they have both yet to agree to fresh terms with the club.
Making reference to this particular duo, pundit Kevin Phillips has insisted that the Black Cats ought to be doing everything they can to convince them to stay.
Speaking to Football Insider, the former Sunderland striker said: “Charlie Wyke I’m sure, it doesn’t matter what league you’re in if you’re scoring 30 odd goals there are going to be other clubs sniffing around.
“It’ll be a shame if Charlie was to move on, if Sunderland get promoted and fans are back in that stadium it’s one hell of a place to play football.
“Luke as well has been fantastic since he moved into that centre-half position, we all know how versatile he is.
“It is very rare that you get the kind of players in your squad that can do that so why would you not tie them down?
“I expect them to be negotiating behind the scenes now and maybe we’ll get news in the next few weeks.”
GIVEMESPORT’s Joshua Cole says…
When you consider just how important this pair have been for Sunderland this season, it is somewhat of a shock that the club hasn’t already tied them down to new deals.
Second only to Peterborough’s Jonson Clarke-Harris in the League One goal-scoring charts, Wyke has already proven that he is more than capable of thriving at this level and thus could be ready to make the step up to the Championship if the Black Cats achieve promotion.
Meanwhile, O’Nien’s displays in the heart of Sunderland’s defence has resulted in him averaging a WhoScored match rating of 7.07 which is currently the third-highest total recorded by a player at the club.
As well as being able to play at centre-back, the 26-year-old could offer the Black Cats a great deal of versatility next season if they opt to keep him as he is also possesses the ability to operate as a full-back or a central midfielder.
In order for Sunderland to progress as a club in the coming years, it could be argued that Johnson should be looking to build a team around the likes of O’Nien and Wyke instead of letting the duo depart this summer.