Stephen Elliott: No excuse for this form but Sunderland and Alex Neil looks like a good fit

Walking out of the Stadium of Light after the Sheffield Wednesday victory just before the end of last year, I felt there was a genuine buzz and feeling in the air.

By Stephen Elliott
Monday, 21st February 2022, 5:00 pm

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It seemed Sunderland were perfectly poised and in a position not only get promoted, but to go and win this division. Lee Johnson was in great spirits. Everything seemed rosy in the garden.

Roll on seven weeks and here we are: another dismal performance at home, a new manager in place and a team genuinely struggling to even cement a play-off push.

Obviously a lot has gone on off the pitch in the meantime with the new manager, the latest drama surrounding Madrox, and so on.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil

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It really has been a bit of a mess but surely it can’t excuse this run of form and the players have to take some of the responsibility. At this level, with the quality at hand, they have not been performing to anywhere near the levels required.

Alex Neil is now in the hot seat and whether getting rid of Lee Johnson was the correct move, the supporters need to find a way of getting behind him and the team if this season is to be saved.

I know there were a few names in for the job, obviously if Roy Keane had come back it would have lifted people and he did seem like the fan’s choice, but in Neil I think the club have appointed somebody that just may be a better fit.

Neil seems like a no-nonsense manager and he tells it how it is, something Lee Johnson sometimes fell short on at times. He has done well at other clubs so I think it’s a bit of a coup for the club getting him in the door.

As bad as the results have been Sunderland are still a little winning run away from getting back into the play-off positions. Even saying that sounds strange given where the club were after the Sheffield Wednesday victory, but from now on in the team just have to start again and get back to basics.

There is a home game on Tuesday against Burton Albion and it has to be a victory. Alex Neil will feel a lot more relieved if and when his fist win comes.

Some of the transfer business the club did in January was a bit questionable , especially defensively where the club are a bit short, especially if there were any further injuries. But this squad still has enough quality to get the job done.

I think Jay Matete has impressed in the games he has played and I would be hoping Jermain Defoe will be training hard to get himself up to speed. In the sporadic appearances to date he has looked a bit unfit and off the pace which is no surprise giving his lack of match practice. A fit and firing Defoe could be the real difference if Sunderland do end up in the play-offs.

It was good to see Ross Stewart get amongst the goals again Saturday as at the moment, if he ain’t scoring then there’s not much chance of Sunderland winning.

Neil will have a few decisions to make on Tuesday but we have to trust him to make the right calls.

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