Lee Johnson message to Sunderland ace Dan Neil amid Burnley £3million reports

Lee Johnson urged Dan Neil to focus on his football after reports Burnley were eyeing up a potential January transfer for the talented midfielder.

Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil
Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil

The Sunderland head coach says he believes the 20-year-old can play at the highest level, but stressed that he believes he can do that on Wearside.

Neil delivered another superb performance as Sunderland beat Doncaster Rovers 3-0 on Monday afternoon, with the home supporters loudly serenading 'one of their own' at the full-time whistle.

It was the latest impressive showing in his breakthrough season, in which he has been repeatedly scouted by top-level clubs, as indeed he had been in U23 football for season's previous.

Neil signed a new long-term deal earlier this season, saying there was 'nowhere he would rather be'.

Johnson was unaware of the reports, which had claimed that Burnley could make an opening offer of around £3 million.

“I think the important thing for Dan is he keeps improving," Johnson said.

"I’m on him all the time. Even today, there will be two or three things that I pick out on the video that I just want him to keep being relentless and doing the things that he does well more often.

Football can bite you in the backside," he added.

"The minute you think you’ve cracked it, all of a sudden you’re going to have bad run of form, find yourself out of the team or get a little knock or niggle. He’s just got to stay in that growth mindset and keep improving his game.

“Inevitably you find your level. If Dan Neil’s level is the top level, which we hope it is, we really hope it’s with Sunderland and not anybody else."

Neil was at the heart of an excellent attacking display, albeit against limited opposition.

Sunderland's impressive output also owed much to the fact that Johnson again named Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard in the same side.

Both have impressed at different stages of the season so far, but had rarely had a run of games together.

That is slowly starting to change and the quality of Sunderland's play has gone up accordingly.

Johnson also welcomed the return of Corry Evans to the starting XI, as the Northern Ireland midfielder completed an hour with no issues following a recent thigh injury.

"We've got good footballers," Johnson said.

"We sometimes lack a little bit of physical power and presence but when we're on song, and moving the ball about slickly, we're a really good side.

"Corry Evans also comes into that, we haven't really seen the best of him due to conditioning, he's never been at full tilt.

"So it's nice to be have him back, and to be able to take him off.

"The more footballers you get, with that IQ, you put them together and you're going to master the ball and control large portions of the game."

Evans could be in line for another start against Sheffield Wednesday on Thursday, depending on how Carl Winchester recovers from a minor calf injury.