Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland: Alex Neil explains his key tactical switch

Alex Neil says Sunderland's slender lead won't impact his game plan for the second leg at Sheffield Wednesday on Monday night.

By Phil Smith
Monday, 9th May 2022, 9:25 am

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Ross Stewart's goal currently separates the sides and whole Neil was coy on how his team will approach the challenge of a sold-out Hillsborough, he has suggested that his time will not look to be overly defensive.

"I don't think the scoreline will really impact what we do, no," Neil said.

"At the end of the day it's a one-goal lead, so one goal completely changes the game.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil

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"I don't think it changes my view on the tie and what we need to do. If it's 2-0, then I think it is slightly different because you very obviously have that cushion.

"We know what we've got to do."

Neil changed shape for the first leg, operating with a back four for the first time in a number of weeks.

Part of the thinking was to try and push Sheffield Wednesday back in their own half, but the absence of Nathan Broadhead was also clearly a significant factor in the shift.

Broadhead remains a major doubt for the return leg, though the Sunderland head coach did not rule him out on Sunday morning.

"The change of formation was a combination of lots of things, and obviously that surprise factor will be gone for the second leg," Neil said.

"What I had available was a big factor, we didn't have two centre forwards to play 3-5-2.

"I had the option of maybe putting Alex or Patrick or someone up there, and then in that type of game I'm asking them to compete with big centre-backs. That wouldn't have been fair on them because of the magnitude of the match, it was never going to be pass, pass, pass game.

"It was always going to be about putting it forward, winning battles, fighting for second balls.

"So it was a combination of things."

Sunderland know the scale of the challenge ahead of them, against a side whose home record this season is outstanding.

But Neil's side can take confidence from the way they have improved significantly on the road since the head coach's arrival, now seemingly far-better equipped to cope especially with the physical demands of the opposition.

"I've not seen much of that vulnerability, to be honest," Neil said.

"Obviously I've seen games back etc but since I've come in, I think probably only Shrewsbury for a spell of around 15-20 minutes have we not competed well enough.

"So to say that after 16 games, 20 minutes we haven't competed, that's some going.

"I don't have any real concerns about that [side of things] and I don't think the players will either. It's about picking the right players to carry out the roles you need and that's what we'll try to do.

"As a group we're never satisfied. Put it this way there were no high fives flying around on Friday, it was well done, now recover and get ready for the next one.

"We're not getting carried away, there's a lot of work to do. That focus is there."