The clear Dan Neil message Sunderland fans will love after award wins and Aston Villa, Burnley speculation

Dan Neil's breakthrough campaign has led to two prestigious awards, and the young midfielder has again stressed his determination to lead his boyhood club back through the leagues.

After being named EFL Young Player of the Month last week (an award once won by Josh Maja), the 20-year-old was on Monday named the North East Football Writers' Association Young Player of the Year for 2021.

Neil became the third Sunderland winner of that award which began in 2008, following Jack Colback and Jordan Pickford.

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"I am honoured to win this award because I know how big it is within the North East, but it was a surprise because this is my first real season playing first team football and I know the players who have won it in the past," Neil said.

Dan Neil marked his first senior goal against Accrington Stanley as his personal highlight of a brilliant 2021

“Of course, it means more because it is a local award and there is a lot of top talent within the region, so to be recognised as one of the best is a real privilege.”

The youngster's outstanding form has also led to a return to the international youth set ups, and represents a remarkable achievement given that injury kept him out of the game for almost two years between the ages of 14 and 16.

His form has inevitably caught the eye further up the pyramid, with Burnley and Aston Villa two clubs recently credited with an interest.

The midfielder has been scouted prolifically by Championship and Premier League clubs this season, but recently signed a new long-term deal on Wearside and reacting to his EFL award, stressed his determination to help win promotion with the Black Cats.

“My first season full-time was the first season in League One and ever since I came in, I’ve always thought that I want to be part of the squad that gets us back up to the Championship and then hopefully to the Premier League," he said.

"I’m just thankful that I’m in the squad now and it looks like we’ve got a fighting chance to get out of this league.

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“We’ve chopped and changed a lot over the years and there’s not really been a philosophy imprinted on the club.

"Now, there is a proper playing style being implemented here and off the pitch, the standards are high around the place.

"It’s very positive around the club at the moment and hopefully some stability can carry us to success.”

Neil admitted that his extensive game time this season has come as something of a surprise, and he is determined to build on it and secure a return to the second tier in May.

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"When the season ended, I knew a lot of players were being released, so I just worked hard to build myself up physically and then I had a good pre-season," he said.

“I didn’t think I would be as involved as I have been, but with injuries and suspensions, plus the fact I feel I’ve been playing well, I’ve been able to keep my place in the side.

"I can’t rest on my laurels now; I’ve got to keep improving and hopefully help us achieve the end goal of promotion at the end of the season."

Tickets are available for the North East Football Writers’ Association 2021 awards dinner at the Ramside Hall Hotel, Golf and Spa in Durham on Sunday March 6, and further details are available from Claire Stephen on 0191 375 3080/ [email protected]

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Last week Newcastle United winger Allan Saint-Maximin was named the 2020 NEFWA Player of the year and Durham’s Sarah Robson won the women’s award. All three will be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Durham in March.

Neil’s Sunderland team-mate Luke O’Nien will be presented with last year’s Sir Bobby Robson Foundation’s personality of the year award

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