Loading...

Sunderland boss Alex Neil delivers verdict on Sheffield Wednesday win and 'brilliant' home support

Alex Neil spoke of his pride in his Sunderland players and the club's support as the Black Cats took a slender advantage from the first leg of their play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 6th May 2022, 11:07 pm

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

Ross Stewart's goal separates the sides, meaning the tie remains on a knife-edge ahead of the return leg at Hillsborough, where the Owls have an outstanding record this season.

Neil was left a touch frustrated that their sides could not make more of some excellent chances at the start of the second half, but had no qualms with his side's overall display.

And he spoke of his delight at managing in front of a crowd of almost 45,000, the largest attendance in EFL play-off history.

Ross Stewart celebrates his goal against Sheffield Wednesday

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

"I thought we were excellent, to handle such a high-pressure environment," Neil said.

"The atmosphere was electric, I thought they were an absolute credit to the club tonight. It was brilliant.

"I've been fortunate to be involved in a lot of big games and that was right up there. These moments, in football and life, they don't come along often.

"How fortunate am I to be the guy on the side of the pitch with 45,000 people cheering the lads on? I feel really, really privilege.

"But the players have then got to take that expectation, that atmosphere, soak it up and manufacture that into a really good performance, which I think they did.

"The only disappointment from our point of view is that we didn't add to the scoreline, we had two or three glorious chances between half time to 75 minutes, I felt we deserved another at that point.

"I thought the first half, we completely controlled it albeit we would have liked to have created a few more chances. But it's hard when a team sits in as a five, our change of shape I thought worked really well, we just didn't quite get the ball into the final third enough.

"Our defensive structure has been excellent for a while now and our two centre-backs stood up really, really strong tonight, because of late there's always been that spare defender when we've played with a three.

"It was a good all-round performance and we've given ourselves an advantage, though we know it won't be easy."

Neil's side are now unbeaten in fourteen games and though the head coach knows the scale of the challenge ahead in keeping that record going on Monday night, he spoke of the trust he has built up with his players.

"At any club, you need to believe in your players and they need to believe in you," Neil said.

"The great thing for my perspective is that results build confidence in each other, and really close relationships.

"This group have been absolutely brilliant, their attitude and application, even the lads who have had to deal with the disappointment of being left out at times. They understand and know that it weighs heavy on me to do that.

"They know I'm doing it for the best of the team, and this group have been selfless."