What Tony Mowbray tells Sunderland’s attacking players as Dan Neil explains how team have progressed

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Dan Neil says Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray has taken the team to the next level following their return to the Championship - while encouraging the side’s attacking players to express themselves. 

Mowbray took charge of the Black Cats in August last year before guiding the club into the play-offs, just 12 months after their promotion from League One. Sunderland’s young side have continued to impress this season, too, with the team sitting sixth in the table after 16 matches.

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When asked if Mowbray was like a father figure at the Stadium of Light, Neil replied: “I think that’s the best way to describe it, like a father figure. He can be hard when he needs to be hard but most of the time he likes us to run the dressing room. 

“The best thing for an attacking player when you go out on the pitch is just to go out and express yourself and that’s what he says. Just get on the ball and go forward. He doesn’t like it when we just play one and two touch, which is very different. He wants us to keep hold of the ball and manipulate it.”

Sunderland recently came from behind to beat Norwich 3-1 at the Stadium of Light, a team they lost to 1-0 in the same fixture the year before. Neil believes that result highlights the team’s progress under Mowbray, after the Black Cats registered 63 per cent possession during last month’s fixture.

“He’s been brilliant. I think you can see that from the development of the team and the squad in the last year and a bit since he’s come in,” Neil added when discussing Mowbray’s tenure so far. “We’ve gone from the new dogs in the Championship to playing Norwich at home and they are sitting in a low block, letting our centre-halves and midfielders have the ball. I think that’s the best marker. 

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“I remember when we played Norwich last year and they were pressing and pressing. We actually played well that day but I thought maybe we’re not up to this standard yet. A year later we were dominating possession and beat them 3-1. I think that’s down to the manager and trust he has for us to go out and express ourselves.”

After playing in a deeper midfield role last season, Neil has been given more licence to get forward this campaign. “The manager has been really good with me especially,” the midfielder explained when asked about his own position. “Last year I think I was very up and down in terms of consistency but he stuck with us. Obviously I played a bit of a different role last year. This year he kind of wants to let the chains off, wants me to get in the box and score goals.

“He’s been absolutely top with me and you can see all the lads are flourishing into better players week in, week out. When everyone is flourishing individually I think it brings us all together as a team.”