Dan Neil reveals thoughts on Luke O'Nien partnership and the Manchester United win that inspired his Sunderland breakthrough
Dan Neil believes he’s forming an effective partnership with Luke O’Nien in Sunderland’s midfield - while the teenager says he’s living the dream after scoring for his boyhood club.
Neil, 19, is the only Sunderland player who has started every match for Lee Johnson’s side this season, and netted his first senior goal for the Black Cats during their 2-1 win over Accrington Stanley.
The teenager has enjoyed a sharp rise into the first-team set-up, impressing with his composure on the ball and range of passing.
After Sunderland captain Corry Evans picked up a hamstring injury earlier in the season, Neil has started alongside O’Nien in midfield for four consecutive league fixtures.
Clearly it’s a combination which has worked well, with the Black Cats recording three successive victories to move top of League One.
“I think we compliment each other quite well even when Corry comes in,” said Neil when asked about his more experienced midfield team-mates.
“I think Corry is similar to Luke, maybe a bit more calm. You know what Luke is like he’s a busy bee in midfield but he does a lot of the dirty work.
“There is still some for me to do as well, it’s not all going to fall to him so that’s something that I’ve had to work on because a lot of these teams are long balls, direct. They are all big lads.
“I think all three midfielders are different and I think Luke is better at the dirty side than me, maybe I’m a bit more composed and forward thinking than Luke.
“When Corry plays he’s similar to Luke and is a calming influence. He’s happy to sit and orchestrate a bit deeper.”
Neil’s rise through Sunderland’s academy will please Wearsiders, especially as the midfielder grew up supporting the club.
That made his goal against Stanley even more special, and the teenager still holds fond memories of watching the Black Cats during his childhood.
“It’s funny because I sat in the corner that I ran to where I scored my first goal,” recalled Neil after that special moment against Stanley.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time and I’ve had to wait a little bit but I’m so glad that it went in and it wasn’t a bad one for my first goal.
“Scoring my first goal like that I was a bit shocked. Just the feeling and adrenaline rush of scoring in front of 30,000 people is something I’ve dreamed of doing. I was just shocked it went in, especially with my left peg.
“My mum, dad and sister were sat together. My nana was here and then my dad’s side of the family, my grandma, auntie, uncle, so quite a few were there. They are at every game and then my mum and dad go to away games so I’m glad I scored in front of them.”
Neil also travelled with his family to watch Sunderland as a supporter, with the Black Cats’ League Cup win over Manchester United in 2014 a memory that stands out.
“I’ve been to quite a lot of away games,” reflected Neil. “The best one I went to was the United semi-final when we beat them on penalties. That was unbelievable.
“Now my dad gets to watch me play.”