Dan Neil identifies the January decision that has played a key part in his Sunderland rise

Dan Neil believes the decision not to go out on loan last January has been key in his outstanding early-season form.

Saturday, 4th September 2021, 7:00 am

After the arrival of Lee Johnson in December, Sunderland' s new regime agonised over whether regular exposure to senior football was the best way forward for the immensely talented midfielder.

The loan system had worked well for other players, and would see Elliot Embleton thrive at Blackpool.

Neil, however, decided that integrating further into the new tactical philosophy was the best way forward.

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Dan Neil has enjoyed a superb start to the campaign

Still just 19, it also allowed him to play a key role as captain of the U23 side who stormed to the play-off final in their division.

Speaking to the matchday programme Red & White ahead of the 3-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers last Saturday, Neil said: "Last season was good for U23s, we just missed out on promotion on penalties, but I felt we had progressed well.

"I'd had a good pre-season last year and wanted to kick on, but a few things caught up on me so maybe I didn't perform as well in training as I should have.

"I'd aimed to get more first-team football than I did, but the main thing for me was learning. Being around the first-team lads, seeing the physical and mental sides of the game and taking in as much as possible from away trips has helped me learn a lot in the last year.

"I was training with the first team as much as possible but playing a lot of games in the U23s in the second half of the season once it was established that I wasn't going on loan.

"Myself and the gaffer sat down and said that was the best thing for me.

"I really enjoyed the end of last season," he added.

"There were chats about a loan, it was a yes then a no across January, but I decided that there were Papa John's Trophy games to play, and I wanted to stay and learn the head coach's philosophy, if not for that season, then for this season.

"If I'd gone on loan I'd have got first-team experience, yes, but I needed to learn the tactical side of what the gaffer wanted.

"Staying here for the rest of the season helped me massively coming into this season.

"I was delighted to play as much in pre-season as I did, and I felt the benefit of remaining here throughout last season and learning what I learnt.

"I appreciate a lot how much of an opportunity the gaffer gave me to bring what I had to the table for the season ahead."

Neil has started every one of Sunderland's competitive fixtures so far, and registered a crucial assist for Ross Stewart in the closing stages of the win over Wycombe Wanderers.

After beginning the campaign in an unfamiliar left-back role, the arrival of Dennis Cirkin from Tottenham Hotspur has allowed him to return to his favoured position in central midfield.

The arrival of Niall Huggins from Leeds United has given Johnson another option at left back, and should clear the way for Neil to compete for more minutes in midfield during the weeks ahead.

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