Sunderland boss delivers this verdict on Oxford United ahead of crucial League One clash

Alex Neil says his scouting mission in midweek underlined the task that faces his Sunderland side this weekend.
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Oxford United lost their second game in succession away to struggling Morecambe on Tuesday night, but dominated the contest and were denied in stoppage time when former Black Cat Trevor Carson made a stunning save.

Sunderland now have a one-point and one-game advantage over Karl Robinson's side in the race for the top six but it remains too close to call ahead of the final month.

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No side has scored more goals in League One this season and despite the stakes rising ever higher, Neil does not expect Robinson to change course ahead of Saturday's game.

Sunderland boss Alex NeilSunderland boss Alex Neil
Sunderland boss Alex Neil

The head coach gave an upbeat verdict on his side's improving form and insisted they feared no one, but was nevertheless clear that he is expecting a close game.

"They're a good side, they are where they are on merit," Neil said.

"They're right up there in terms of goalscoring in the division so we understand that they're a good team and that they will bring a threat.

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"We went to watch them against Morecambe and they deserved to win the game, but they didn't and that shows you how difficult this league can be.

"The performance merited three points so we know that it is going to be a tough match for us, and we will have to play as well as we can.

"I anticipate a team which I think will throw caution to the wind. I think they'll go for it, Karl's teams are naturally attacking anyway, they never really set up to be defensive.

"You can see that they're well coached and that they have good players, so I think it'll make for an entertaining game.

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"They've fluctuated between a back three and a back four of late so they could do either, which we'll be equipped to deal with.

"It's going to be a tough game.

"I think we're at the stage of the season now, if we're second or third game in and we're looking towards the season as a whole, you probably go in to a game like this being a little more cagey. But now I think for every team points are an absolute premium, so teams will go for the points from the off and make it a bit more open."

While Oxford's attacking options are their main strength, Neil has also warned that his side cannot afford to underestimate their play off the ball: "I don't think they get the credit they deserve out of possession," he said.

"The pressure they put on the ball is very good, I watched the game between the two sides earlier this season and in my opinion even though it finished 1-1, Oxford were the dominant side in the first half.

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"I think it's going to be much more open than the Gillingham game, for example."

Oxford United will be boosted for the game by the return of influential due Cameron Brannagan and Elliott Moore from injury.