Everything Cameron Jerome and Alex Bruce said about Sunderland, Alex Neil and their Wembley win over Wycombe Wanderers

Cameron Jerome and Alex Bruce have revealed huge praise for Alex Neil as he masterminded a ‘professional’ Sunderland performance at Wembley.

By Joe Buck
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 4:00 pm

In what could have been a very nervy day against Wycombe Wanderers, Sunderland put in a very professional performance to seal victory in the League One play-off final.

Appearing on BBC 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast, former Norwich City striker Jerome, who controversially described Sunderland as a ‘bang average League One team’ in November 2020, praised the work his former boss has done since his arrival on Wearside and for leading the team to break their Wembley hoodoo:

“People can get too caught up in stats but I thought Sunderland were really professional [on the day].” Jerome said.

Alex Neil used his experience of getting promoted from the play-offs - he’s done it twice, once with myself at Norwich and once in Scotland with Hamilton.

“I think that played into Sunderland’s hands a little bit and the way he goes around his business, having played under him, I know exactly what he is like. He will have the players relaxed but also really fired up and you could see that Sunderland really came out the traps quick and took the game straight to Wycombe.”

Particularly in the first-half, Sunderland dominated proceedings at Wembley and Jerome’s fellow pundit, Alex Bruce, believed that the Black Cats took control of the key moments that ultimately led them to sealing promotion.

“You have to credit Alex Neil and the Sunderland players.” Bruce said.

Alex Neil helped Sunderland put in a 'professional' performance against Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

“I had a similar situation during my first season in football with Sheffield Wednesday. We played Hartlepool in the League One play-off final and when you come out onto the pitch and you see three-quarters of the ground in your own colours, like Sunderland were the other day, the one thing you have to do is turn up and meet the expectation of the occasion and they certainly did that.

“They scored at the right times, I think they dominated the game and were by far the better team on the day so a lot of credit to the players and Alex Neil for coping with the occasion.

“There’s a saying in football ‘make sure you play the game and not the occasion’ and they certainly did that.”

This was a sentiment also shared by Jerome who believed the timings of the goals from Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart were vital:

Ross Stewart's goal secured Sunderland promotion back to the Championship (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

“They had a few early chances and as Alex said, they scored the goals at the right time. The first was a well-worked goal and the second probably killed-off Wycombe’s hope of a revival. They certainly deserved to win.

“The expectation of that football club is huge and so it’s good to see a big club back in the Championship and I’m sure Sunderland will go well again next year.”

So what does the future hold for Sunderland? Their return to the Championship has been four years in the making with Jack Ross, Phil Parkinson and Lee Johnson all unable to guide them back to the top-flight.

Even though he has only been in the dugout since February, Neil has garnered great support from across the Sunderland fan base with the general consensus that Neil, the club and supporters are all a good fit for each other at the present time.

Corry Evans lifts the Sky Bet League One Play-Off trophy (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

And for Bruce and Jerome, there is seemingly only one candidate to help take the Black Cats into the future and move them further up the pyramid.

When asked about Neil’s future at the club, Jerome was sure his former boss is the man for Sunderland: “Absolutely. I have got a lot of time and respect for Alex and the job he has done [at Sunderland] has been remarkable.

“He got Norwich promoted, unfortunately couldn’t quite keep us in the Premier League, went to Preston and did really well with not much budget or money to spend there, so you can see the pedigree of him as a manager.

“He would have looked at that Sunderland job and thought ‘I fancy a bit of this, this is a bit of me. I can rise to the occasion and be that person who can get Sunderland back to the more recent days of success of being in the Championship and the Premier League’.

“I think he would have took that in his stride and relished the challenge having known what he is like.”

Bruce, whose father Steve has had spells in charge of both Sunderland and Newcastle United during his managerial career, believes Neil has all the skills to be a success in the north east:

“Both clubs, Newcastle and Sunderland, the support, intensity of the place, there’s no place like it in England that’s for sure. The north east live and breathe football up there.

“You have to take all these things into consideration when you look at the job Alex Neil has done. You think of the expectation, it would have been a bad place if they had gotten beat at Wembley last weekend.

“The fact he has gone and achieved what he has achieved, put smiles back on the faces of all the Sunderland supporters, they will have a good summer and I’m sure they’re all looking forward to the Championship next season.

“It’s going to be a difficult job because the Championship is going to be very, very competitive next season but with Sunderland in it, they will always be able to attract players and given the right tools, I’m sure Alex Neil will do a good job.”

Sunderland’s first game back in the second-tier will take place on the weekend of Saturday, July 30.