Stephen Elliott: Why Dan Neil is a future Sunderland captain and can play at highest level

A midday kick-off against Middlesbrough on a Sunday proved to be just the tonic to warm up the Sunderland supporters in Siberian conditions.

Middlesbrough, a team on a tremendous run of form was always going to be a tough game. Tony Mowbray going up against his boyhood team also added some spice to the local affair.

I’m not sure if this fixture is a derby but the atmosphere certainly felt like one on Sunday. Whether it is or not, it was a huge game and the three points available were vital to whoever claimed them.

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Sunderland, I’m delighted to say, for their part were outstanding during the whole game. The back line of Dan Ballard and Danny Batth flanked either side by Trai Hume and the returning Aji Alese looked solid as a rock.

Sunderland head coach Tony Mowbray.

This back four with Anthony Patterson behind them provided a strong base for the sorcerers of the team to produce their wizardry. And that they did.

There wasn’t a single player in red and white who did not get plus marks but the performances of Dan Neil, Patrick Roberts and Amad Diallo were standouts for me.

Diallo and Roberts seem like they have a telepathic understanding and every time either one of them got the ball I felt like something magical would happen.

There may not be much of either of them but for what they lack in physical size they more than make up for with their movement and ability on the ball.

Diallo could and probably should have scored in the first half but he didn’t drop his head and eventually got the goal that his afternoon deserved. His goal was the result of a great bit of link up play with, yes, you know who.

I spoke a few weeks back about how I wanted to see Roberts get more game time. Last week he was sacrificed after the red card but this week we saw why l called for him in the team so vocally.

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Dan Neil, a player who no doubt can play at the highest level, was outstanding all game. He lost his mate Corry Evans in there early doors but it certainly didn’t affect him.

If anything it inspired him. He showed a fantastic range of passing and his energy levels were as good as anyone.

I am trying not to hype him up too much as he is only a pup but I suppose It’s very hard not to. He is a future captain if the club can keep him long enough.

I haven’t even mentioned Ross Stewart yet but he once again he led the line immensely and got his custom goal albeit after a poor penalty. I didn’t want to go into the sending off for Middlesbrough as I genuinely didn’t feel like it changed much.

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Even before Dael Fry received his marching orders I thought Sunderland were going to go on and win the game comfortably.

A play-off spot is a genuine possibility, although I would feel a lot more confident with a few new faces in and a couple of the above mentioned still being here once the transfer window shuts.