Dan Neil discusses his role at Sunderland under new boss Alex Neil
Dan Neil has embraced the healthy competition at Sunderland but is now hoping for a run in the side following his crucial goal against Crewe.
The 20-year-old midfielder was a regular starter under former boss Lee Johnson in the first half of the season but has been named on the bench for five consecutive matches.
Neil has admitted he experienced a dip in form and confidence before Alex Neil was appointed last month, but says he now feels rejuvenated again.
It has been suggested that Neil had played too much this season, yet the arrival of Jay Matete from Fleetwood, as well as Luke O’Nien’s return from injury, has bolstered the Black Cats’ midfield options.
"We have a really good squad here and I’ve had to sit out because other lads have been doing better than me,” said Neil after the Crewe game.
“All the lads are fighting for their places which is a good thing, and there was a chance for me to prove I want to be in that starting line-up.
“If I do play next time and someone else comes on, they will be wanting to prove that they want to be in that starting line-up. It’s healthy competition and from a personal note I hope I’ve done that.”
Neil’s goal against Crewe, an excellent first-time strike from the edge of the box, was his fourth of the campaign and third in League One.
The 20-year-old operated in an advanced position against Crewe, but was also given licence to drop deep and link up play.
When asked about his role under the new boss, Neil, who has also registered seven assists this season, replied: “He wants me to be involved higher up the pitch.
“I think I have been involved in a few goals this year and being higher up the pitch allows me to get in those areas to create things like that.
“He hasn't taken the licence off me to come and take it deep. As you saw for the goal I got it deep, played it into Rosco and ran on from that.
“He just wants me to be myself and play my natural game.”
The goal against Crewe was another special moment for Neil, a boyhood Sunderland fan who has come through the club’s academy.
His strike lifted the mood at the Stadium of Light, where the Black Cats will play four of their remaining eight league fixtures.
“You heard the place when I scored, it was absolutely rocking and that’s what it can be like,” Neil added.
“We just need to maybe start a little bit better in games, I’ve been in games at the start of the season, Plymouth, Sheff Wed spring to mind, when we have started well and the place is an absolute fortress. I don’t think teams can cope with it.
“You could see at the end we started dominating because we got that goal and the place rose if you like.”
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