Dan Neil's brilliant reaction to 'dream' Sunderland moment and the training work paying off

Dan Neil's journey at Sunderland is still very much in its early stages but there was another notable achievement at Spennymoor Town.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 6:00 am

With Sunderland s squad still very much in the middle of a major transition, the team was without a captain and when the question was put to Lee Johnson, his response was emphatic.

Even so, the young midfielder had to double check he had heard correctly.

Neil is pushing for greater first-team involvement this season, but taking the armband for that pre-season opener was a reflection of the faith Johnson has that he can make a long-term impact at the club.

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Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil

And having grown up watcjing Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, the honour was not on Neil regardless of the occasion.

"It was a bit of a shock in the changing room when he said," Neil explained.

"Obviously it was a dream come true. Although it was only a pre-season game, it's still a dream come true to lead the lads out in any game, whether it's a friendly, cup game, league game. I was delighted with it.

"I had my back to him, somebody asked, and he said 'Dan is going to be captain today.' I thought I didn't hear him properly! I was a bit shocked."

Neil produced an even better display at York City, scoring the opening goal in an excellent first-half performance.

A composed finish was the result of hard work on the training ground, with the youngster revealing that his previously dubious finishing abilities are well known behind the scenes.

With Johnson eager to find more goals from midfield this season, and with breaking into the box a key demand for players in that position, Neil knows it's an area in which he needs to continue progressing.

"I'm not known for my finishing at the club, a lot of the lads take the mick. I had the exact same chance two minutes before it and I scuffed it a bit, but I'm glad the second one went in.

“I think it was just trying to be too precise, thinking about it too much in the box," he said.

"It's definitely something I need to work and we've already addressed that with the coaches. I'll be doing that.

“It's not crucial, but a team can benefit from a midfielder getting a few goals throughout a season. I think all the top teams who get out of divisions have a midfielder or two that chip in with eight or ten goals a season, so it's something I need to work on and hopefully bring to my game."

Neil has had a excellent pre-season so far but understands the importance of keeping the momentum going.

"I think there's still more gears to go through both individually for everybody and collectively," he said.

"We've still got a lot of things to work on to make sure we're heading in the right direction ahead of the first game.

"It's been a good pre-season so far, but there's still a lot of games to go, it could still nosedive, so I just need to stay grounded and keep working hard and put in those performances."

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