SUNDERLAND’S sporting director admits the club will have to “manage” the situation regarding Aiden O’Brien, with the forward having seen a proposed deadline-day move to Doncaster Rovers fall through because of administrative issues.

O’Brien thought he had completed a season-long loan move to the Keepmoat Stadium, only for the transfer to collapse at the final minute when Sunderland and Doncaster officials were unable to complete the necessary paperwork.

The Irishman finds himself back in the Black Cats squad, knowing Lee Johnson was willing to let him go after failing to select him in the starting side for any of Sunderland’s league games so far this season.

Kristjaan Speakman is confident O’Brien will not cause any problems in the next few months, but accepts the 27-year-old’s position within the squad will have to be carefully managed.

“Aiden was presented with an opportunity for a loan, which he wanted to take, but unfortunately we couldn’t get that through administration-wise before the deadline,” said the Sunderland chief.

“I don’t think Aiden was desperate to get away. He is someone who has played a lot of minutes for us since I’ve been here and Lee has been head coach, and he is a valuable member of the group.

“In fairness to Aiden, he is not someone who wants to sit around when he is not playing, and at the moment, he has not had as many minutes as he would have wanted. It’s up to him to work his way into the team – but it’s also on us to manage him.”

While O’Brien did not leave Wearside last month, Sunderland allowed 14 players to part company with the club on either a permanent or loan basis, with nine signings arriving to refresh the squad.

The overhaul was meticulously planned, with a clear desire to reduce the average age of the squad and recruit players who were a good fit with Johnson’s preferred playing style.

Inevitably, Sunderland were unable to sign everyone they went for, but with the window now closed, Speakman is satisfied with the club’s overall business.

“We had a really clear idea about who we wanted to go for,” he said, in an interview with the club’s SAFC Unfiltered podcast. “Wewanted to go for a smaller, streamlined, squad of quality over quantity.

“Therefore, when you do that, you have to be really precise with those signings because you have less room for error. We did let a group of players go, which was potentially risky, but we felt to change the philosophy, the dynamic of the squad, and the average age then that was something we would have to do.

“The average age this year in the league is 24.8, I think last year it was just over 28 - we had some games where it was just short of 29. So, there’s a huge difference in what the squad’s dynamic looks like.”

While Johnson will be focusing his attention over the next few weeks on keeping Sunderland at the top of the League One table, Speakman and the rest of the club’s recruitment team have already turned their attention towards the January transfer window.

“We’ve already started the process of looking ahead to the January window,” he said. “We’ve begun that this week.

“At the moment, everyone is comfortable (with the squad), but it doesn’t mean we will still be comfortable in December. There will be injuries, suspensions, and the natural things that happen within our industry, and we will do everything we can to get ready for next time."