Sunderland boss Alex Neil outlines a key lesson his players must learn before the Championship campaign

Alex Neil has warned his Sunderland players that they must be more ruthless in front of goal as they step up to Championship level this season.
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The Black Cats fell to a 2-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley in their penultimate pre-season friendly after dominating the first half and creating a number of clear chances.

Defensive lapses allowed John Coleman's side to claim a win and Sunderland's head coach, while praising goalkeeper Lukas Jensen's impressive performance, warned that his side cannot afford a repeat in the second tier this year.

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Sunderland face Hartlepool United in their final pre-season friendly on Monday night before Coventry City visit the Stadium of Light on Sunday lunchtime.

Ross Stewart goes close at The Wham StadiumRoss Stewart goes close at The Wham Stadium
Ross Stewart goes close at The Wham Stadium

Neil is expected to again rotate his side heavily, insisting that places are still up for grabs in this weekend's XI.

"The goalkeeper had a really good game but equally, there were some gilt-edged chances that we didn't take," Neil said.

"And what we will find this season much more so than in League One, goals change games.

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"You can play as well you like but what happens is, if you concede it allows the opposition to sit in as a pack and hit you at the counter. Teams at this level are going to be very good at doing that.

"Similarly, if you're not performing well but you get the first goal, it allows us to do likewise.

"So moving up to the next level, that [finishing] is going to be vitally important for us.

Neil's warning echoed that of Lynden Gooch earlier in the pre-season programme, after Sunderland spurned a chance to take the lead against AS Roma before falling to a 2-0 defeat.

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"It was good to test ourselves against them and I felt we played some good stuff for three-quarters of the game," Neil said.

"We should probably have scored and gone one-nil up, but that happens when you play top teams - if you don't punish them then you get punished.

"It's going to be like that in the Championship this year, too. We are going to come up against good teams and more prolific teams than we did in League One, so we need to be ruthless."