Former Black Cat hails ‘fantastic’ Phil Neville and says new boss must build bridges with fans

Phil Neville is said to be interested in the Sunderland job.
Phil Neville is said to be interested in the Sunderland job.
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Former Sunderland defender Danny Higginbotham says it is vital that the club’s next managerial appointment gives the fans a lift, and believes Phil Neville would do ‘whatever it takes’ to be a success if handed the opportunity.

Neville has been heavily linked with the role in recent days, and Higginbotham, who spent a short time with him at Manchester United, thinks Sunderland shouldn’t be afraid to give a young manager a chance alongside a more experienced campaigner.

He said: “From the short time I played with Phil Neville, the way he trained, his professionalism, I know that he would leave absolutely no stone unturned.

“I think he’s fantastic and would do whatever it takes. If he went there with someone who knows the club, why not give a young manager an opportunity?

“I don’t think we do it enough. Maybe something a little bit different would work for them.

“You look at Roy Keane, it was his first job in management, he got the squad going from a similar position. When I came into the club the next season we were riding the crest of a wave really, we scored so many late goals.

“You need to make the Stadium a happy place, to get people on the edge of their seats.

“In my opinion the fans need a bit of a lift, so can you bring someone in who the fans can relate with, maybe someone who has had success at the club before?

“Whether it be a former player or a former manager. Sunderland is a very special football club if you can get that relationship with the supporters.

“Imagine the uplift if you had someone like Peter Reid there to oversee someone like Kevin Phillips, a young manager who wants a crack at it.

“What’s important is that the manager who comes in gets the fans on side. It is a big appointment, simple as that.”

Higginbotham made 22 appearances for Sunderland and scored three goals, one of which came in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Now working as a pundit, the 38-year-old watched Sunderland lose 1-0 to Middlesbrough on Sunday in his role for Sky Sports and says the new manager will have plenty to work with.

He said: “There’s something there for the manager to work with. With Middlesbrough scoring early on Sunday, the game could have gone one of two ways, they could have gone on to win comfortably or Sunderland could have stayed in the game, which they did.

“I thought Darren Randolph made some fantastic saves. People say when a team is struggling the hardest thing to do is score goals but Sunderland have shown they can do that.

“One thing I would say is I think the new manager would have to inject a bit of pace into the team. They’ve got some great creative players like McGeady but at times Lewis Grabban can be a bit isolated when they’re looking to get up the pitch.

“They’ve got the creativity there and they’ve got midfielders who can get the ball and give it, but some pace might make a big difference.”