Alex Neil (PA)
20 August 2022

Alex Neil insists Sunderland are playing without fear as they climb into top six

20 August 2022

Alex Neil says there is “no fear” in his Sunderland side as they rose into the top six with a 1-0 victory over Stoke.

The Black Cats snatched the lead against the run of play when stopper Joe Bursik let a Ross Stewart strike wriggle beneath him moments before the interval.

Despite dominating, Stoke failed to take advantage with Anthony Patterson denying a fierce Jacob Brown effort with Phil Jagielka and Dwight Gayle also missing chances.

Neil’s side, who move into the top six after a haul of eight points from their opening five games, defended resolutely to hold on.

“For them to acclimatise themselves the way they have done, it comes with young players; they have no fear of what’s coming next,” noted the Sunderland boss.

“The good thing is that they listen to every word I say, and they try to carry it out the best they can.

“I think the only positive we took from the first half was that we scored. I thought we were really disappointing. We didn’t compete well or use the ball well enough, so that was frustrating.

“We were leggy in the first half and you could see how much they put in the other night, so the goal gave us something for the second half.

“But the lads know the standard that we expect from them individually and collectively and in the second half we competed better. We were a threat and defensively we were excellent.

“We’re a really unknown quantity at this level; the vast majority of lads haven’t played at this level before.

“I think based on the games we’ve played; I’ve probably got a different outlook on it because I think we’ve merited more (points).

“We’re pleased with where we are, but it’s only the start of the season and there’s a long way to go.”

Stoke’s wastefulness in the final third proved costly with Jagielka failing to convert a golden opportunity from close range early in the second half.

Former Newcastle forward Gayle also spurned a chance late on when his prodded effort dropped wide in a frustrating afternoon for the Potters.

Boss Michael O’Neill said: “We were clearly the dominant team up until the goal. It’s a poor goal for us to concede and we should have been ahead in the game.

“We could have done more with the opportunities we had, but ultimately the timing and the nature of the goal changed the whole outlook of the game. It’s not a strike that should end up in the back of your net either.

“We put ourselves in a difficult position and in the second half you could see the frustration in our game. It just was one of those days where we made it difficult for ourselves after a really good first half performance.

“We’re five games into the season, there’s a lot of football to be played and I think it’s about keeping it in perspective as well and that’s what we’ll try to do.

“This is quite a new squad of players and we’ve lost five or six players to injury who would push to be in our starting 11 so we’re not really where we can be at this minute of time.

“I think we’ve got a really good team in our dressing room, but that’s easy for me to say because we haven’t shown that.”

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