'Intense, passionate and hard working': What Sunderland fans can expect from Alex Neil based on his Preston experience

Alex Neil has been named Sunderland’s new head coach – but what can Black Cats supporters expect if he does take charge at the Stadium of Light.

Saturday, 12th February 2022, 8:06 am

Neil’s first job in England saw him win promotion from the Championship with Norwich in 2015, before he spent nearly four years in the Championship with Preston North End.

The Scot left Deepdale in March 2021 but was keen to return to management.

Alex Neil has signed a rolling 12-month contract at the Stadium of Light and will be assisted by former Hamilton Academical team-mate Martin Canning.

Alex Neil while managing Preston North End.

To find out more about Neil, we caught up with Preston reporter Dave Seddon from our sister title The Lancashire Evening Post:

How will Neil be remembered for his time at Preston?

DS: “Most of his time at Preston will be remembered fondly.

“In his first season (2017/18) he guided North End to their highest finish since 2009 - they finished seventh, two points shy of the play-offs.

Football and finances had to be juggled at Preston, with Neil losing some key players as time went on - Jordan Hugill, Greg Cunningham, Callum Robinson, Ben Davies, Ben Pearson.

“Against that backdrop, he did well to keep North End more often than not in the top half of the Championship.”

What was his style of football like?

DS: “Neil in the main used a 4-2-3-1 system. In terms of style, his first season saw the best football - high, aggressive pressing, with plenty of movement up front.

“The tempo reduced over time due to key players leaving or being out injured. But generally they were decent to watch.”

What were the reasons behind his departure?

DS: “I think he simply ran out of steam by the end.

"Neil is a hard-working manager who spends hours studying opponents when not out on the training ground.

"He was intense in his coaching and perhaps he took Preston as far as he could. Results and performances were poor towards the end, there being an inevitability about his exit when it came.

What would you say his strengths and weaknesses are as a coach?

DS: “His passion is coaching, working hard on the training pitch with his players. He got the best of a group of players he inherited at Preston, developing them well.

"He got the likes of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson, Callum Robinson, Alan Browne and Daniel Johnson, playing some very good football.

“Weaknesses, perhaps he tried too hard at times, got too deep with his study of the opposition - based his selection at times too much on what the opposition might do.”

Do you think he'd be a good appointment for Sunderland?

DS: “I think he will be. He's had nine months out of the game, having a break and studying things from afar.

"He will be refreshed. Neil will be new to League One but he will like the big club status and the challenge of trying to get promotion.”

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