Keeping Alex Neil will be hugely important for Sunderland next season says former Cats captain

Former Sunderland captain Gary Bennett says it will be hugely important for the club to keep hold of head coach Alex Neil next season – regardless of the outcome in the League One play-off final.

Saturday, 14th May 2022, 7:00 am

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The Black Cats will face Wycombe at Wembley as they look to end a four-year stay in England’s third tier.

Neil joined Sunderland in February, when he agreed a rolling 12-month contract, and has lost just one of his 17 games since.

That run of results, as well as his success at other clubs, has led to reports that Neil will be on Burnley’s managerial shortlist this summer.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil. Picture by FRANK REID

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When asked how important it will be for Sunderland to keep Neil next season, Bennett told the Echo: “It’s huge, and he doesn’t need me to highlight how well he’s done.

“I think everybody can see the job he’s done on the field, they can see the job he’s done off the field and gets on with it.

“I think it was summed up on Monday at Sheffield Wednesday, everyone was screaming for him to make a substitution but he had belief in the players and they went out and got the job done and that’s what they’ve been doing for him.”

Sunderland battled past Wednesday over two legs to reach the play-off final, with Patrick Roberts scoring the winning goal at Hillsborough in a 2-1 aggregate win.

“I think it was an excellent performance,” said Bennett. “You knew that over the two legs there were stages where they were going to be under pressure.

“Going into the game I fancied ourselves because I thought we were better equipped to deal with the situations than we were last time and I think it showed in our performance, especially with the centre-backs, (Danny) Batth, (Bailey) Wright and (Dennis) Cirkin were outstanding.

“A lot of that has got to go down to the manager and the coaching staff as well, they do look a harder team to beat.

“You are talking about the same players who we had previous to that and there were times, shall we say, when we got bullied and had a soft touch.

“Somehow he has got it right, they have formed a good partnership and as you saw on Monday they are putting their head in where it hurts.”