04 March 2023

Reception frustrates Alex Neil but Stoke boss enjoyed winning return to Wearside

04 March 2023

Stoke boss Alex Neil does not believe he deserved the reception he got from Sunderland fans, after he marked his return to the Stadium of Light with a 5-1 win.

Josh Laurent’s controversial opener four minutes before half-time opened the scoring and doubles from Tyrese Campbell and Dwight Gayle in the second half ensured an emphatic away success. Alex Pritchard pulled one back for  Sunderland when they trailed 3-0.

Neil led the Black Cats to promotion in May before quitting in August to take over at the Potters and his successor, Tony Mowbray, felt majorly aggrieved by the manner of the defeat on Wearside.

Mowbray felt the opening goal should not have stood, after referee Jeremy Simpson handed possession to Stoke following a head injury to Ki-Jana Hoever, who was then allowed immediately back on to the pitch after treatment to receive a pass.

Sunderland fans made it quite clear what they thought, with boos and derogatory chants directed Neil’s way throughout an afternoon that was full of high drama.

The Scot, whose team moved up to 16th in the Sky Bet Championship with the win, said afterwards: “I loved it when I was here. I wanted to move this club forward. I have nothing but good things to say about the club.

“What is disappointing and frustrating is that I have been painted the villain. There is a lot of untrue things that have been said about me. I will take it on the chin, I won’t cry.

“I enjoyed winning but that is for the people who understand the dynamics of the situation because I am not the bad guy.

“We knew the type of game it would be. We wanted to make sure we restricted them playing in the pockets they do. We didn’t want them to have any flow. The game plan worked as well as it could.

“The first goal opens it up even more, it left more space for us to counter. It was a great worked goal.

“I can understand Sunderland frustration. Ki has just come back on. I was actually saying the same in the first half when he let Dan Ballard back on. He did it for both teams.”

Sunderland have now lost three matches in a row and dropped six points off the play-off places.

Mowbray was unhappy with the manner of his team’s collapse but clearly pointed the finger at Simpson for the way the game changed.

Mowbray, cautioned for approaching Simpson to complain on the pitch after the half-time whistle, said: “I wanted an explanation from him. I don’t mind him flashing the yellow, why isn’t he able to have a discussion?

“But why did they drop the ball at the keeper’s feet when we had the ball six or seven seconds, or at least tell them to give the ball back?

“I don’t want to change the narrative because credit to Stoke – but it was ridiculous.

“It is hard for the team, the supporters, the club. It was difficult to foresee it coming, I would suggest. It was difficult to see it coming.

“It didn’t feel like a normal Sunderland game where we are in control. Over recent games we have struggled to score goals to win games.”

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