Sunderland boss delivers honest verdict on Championship return and why his players 'took a lot of heart'

Alex Neil believes his Sunderland players have taken ‘a lot of heart’ from their opening-day showing against Coventry City.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 5th August 2022, 4:00 pm

Neil had spoken before the game about not knowing what to expect from a group of players who are for the most part stepping up to the Championship for the first time.

By and large they gave a very good account of themselves, but were dealt a harsh lesson when one defensive lapse allowed Viktor Gyokeres to score an excellent individual effort from just outside the box.

The Sunderland head coach admitted that tired legs and minds were ultimately on show but insists there is a lot to build on for both him and his players.

Alex Neil celebrates Jack Clarke's goal against Coventry City

“The lads have taken a lot of heart from the game,” Neil said.

“They know they played well in spells, they know organisationally they were very good, they were disciplined, and we limited a very good team to very little.

“Equally, that one moment showed them the difference in levels because the intensity never stops and the quality when that chance does come means the likelihood is they are going to damage you.

“It's not to say that guys in League One can't do that, but the likelihood is that they are probably going to need more opportunities to do it [score].

“I think we limited Coventry to two shots on target and they scored one of them, and it was from outside the box.

“It was a moment of quality, but in every goal there are three or four things that we could fix before it gets there to stop it from happening.

“The game went on and there were some tired legs, tired minds, they made some changes, the dynamic of the game shifted a little bit, and unfortunately that one moment cost us.”

Sunderland travel to Bristol City on Saturday for their first away game back in the Championship, with a bumper crowd of over 24,000 expected.

Neil says last Sunday showed some of the key areas where his players will have to step up over the course of the season.

“There are a few fundamentals really,” Neil explained.

“The intensity of the game is one.

“The levels that we churned out physically were far greater than they were in League One, and that isn't because we didn't work as hard in League One, it was because last Sunday the game went on for 96 minutes without a lull or a break, whereas last season when we scored teams sat back and it was a case of us trying to break them down.

“Then there's concentration.

“If you switch off for one moment in a game, the likelihood is that the opposition is capable of punishing you, whereas the conversion of chances in League One is far lower.

“When you take all those components into account, it's a really steep learning curve for young players.

“There are huge demands on these lads in terms of where we expect them to get, where the fans expect them to get. and the team to be, so I thought they put in a really good showing last Sunday.”