‘Stokoe-esque’ – one fan’s view on Alex Neil, victory at Wembely and the future of Sunderland AFC

Sunderland ended years of Wembley heartache against Wycome Wanderers on Saturday – Black Cats fan Gary Engel tells us what it was like to be there:

By James Harrison
Sunday, 22nd May 2022, 2:43 pm

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Under Alex Neil I have, in the last few weeks, been quietly confident.

That is despite watching and suffering the kind of heartbreak only the play-offs can deliver.

I've watched it unfold or should I say, unravel, over the past 25 years and, like so many, I've bought my tickets and attended Wembley for three of our last four appearances there since 2014.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil

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Wembley is magic, the home of football, and no matter what your team is there for, you can't help but get sucked into the whole bubble.

You are part of something, a dream to be swept along on a magic carpet ride in the hope our team will triumph.

But as we all know, no matter if Sunderland are underdogs or favourites, it hasn't mattered in recent times.

Sunderland fan Gary Engle at Wembley

Every visit has followed the same pattern: we go; we conquer the capital; drink it dry; turn Trafalgar and Wembley Way red; sing our Mackem hearts out for 90 minutes – and leave the place sombre.

We turn to the person next to us and say: “Maybe next time.”

Wembley is magic, but the trip home after a defeat is one of the worst feelings a fan can experience.

Sunderland's last visit to Wembley, minus fans, saw us win on the hallowed turf.

"Nah, we won't lose today,” I heard while queueing outside the turnstiles - I fully agreed.

During my last visits to the big arch, I've agonized over what Sunderland could have done differently, who could have made a difference.

Back in January, Sunderland had just lost 6-0 at Bolton and Keane was being interviewed for the Sunderland job after Lee Johnson's acrimonious departure.

The club was on its knees, staring at another season in League One and everyone needed a boost and no one could have foreseen a playoff triumph at that point.

All credit to Alex Neil, my glimmer of hope was that he managed something similar at Norwich, but this is Sunderland and we don't do things the easy way.

Chris Coleman spoke passionately about the club this week.

To some, he's one that given time could have altered our course, but unlike others he isn't bitter towards the club or our fans and I agree with his sentiment that it was the right club at the wrong time.

But there can be no playing down what a hell of a job Alex Neil has done in a few short months.

I'm not sure if I'm the first to say this, but it is quite simply Stokoe-esque!

Cometh the man, cometh the hour – Alex Neil is not just the manager we've needed for so long, he's the essence of the manager we've wanted.

His team is going the distance, scoring late goals is reminiscent of the Roy Keane era and his pragmatic approach of doing what is needed to grind out points reminds me of Allardyce.

Back Neil to the hilt and we could be in for some exciting times.

Alex Neil hasn't created anything new with our club yet, the magic has always been there, but perhaps he's the man to finally rediscover it.