Dennis Cirkin and Carl Winchester update plus Sunderland boss explains surprise selection decisions against Rotherham
Alex Neil says he needed to adapt his Sunderland starting XI to Rotherham’s threat after Elliot Embleton dropped to the bench on Tuesday night.
Embleton produced a ‘sensational’ performance against Cambridge United on Saturday but Neil said afterwards that this game ‘was never going to be like that’.
Neil said he had adapted his side to deal with Rotherham’s physical threat, with the visitors having the better of the first half following Michael Ihiekwe’s goal from a corner.
“I just felt we needed to win the midfield battle against them,” Neil said when asked about his Embleton decision.
"Elliot Embleton is a wonderful footballer but he understands that there are certain specific games that I think are suited to specific players.
“People will argue if we did this from the start or we done this and done that…. all the homework that I’ve done, all the teams that have beaten Rotherham, I watched Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, Oxford, all the best footballing teams and they’ve all lost. And then I watched Shrewsbury, Fleetwood who beat them twice.
“There is a blueprint for any team to beat any team and I’ve spent all week watching the best part of five or six matches to try and give us the best chance of winning the game. If it means having to drop a player out who played particularly well in the last game, then that’s fine.
“The lads do understand that it is a squad game and that is what is required and needed at certain moments. Embo has been fantastic in the last three matches and came on and contributed to the game. It is what it is.
"It wasn't going to be a game full of chances, it was never going to be like Saturday,” he added of the game.
"These teams don't allow you to pop it about, you beat them by going up, back and through. We didn't link the ball well enough in the first half but from the second half, I think we deserved a point.
Neil also brought Trai Hume back for his first start since the head coach’s first game in charge at AFC Wimbledon in February.
“Trai has trained really well,” Neil said.
"He’s arguably trained well enough that he should have started games well before tonight.
“Like I said to him, when I’ve got Winny [Carl Winchester] and different things, I just think at this stage in the season that it’s hard to put a kid in when he’s not had a lot of minutes and demand a lot of him.
“I think what you could see tonight was the certain gaps. We mentioned it a few times that we don’t really have any full-backs apart from Trai. Even when Broady [Nathan Broadhead] came off, I had to put Luke O’Nien up top. But we got there.”
Neil said Sunderland are still waiting for scan results on injuries to Dennis Cirkin and Carl Winchester, but added that he was ‘hopeful’ the former would be back soon.
The head coach also revealed that Nathan Broadhead, who was substituted early in the second half, had been an injury doubt: “He was touch and go.
"In hindsight I maybe shouldn’t have played him, but hopefully he’ll be OK.”