Sunderland boss Alex Neil reacts as squad respond to his big pre-match challenge in Wigan Athletic win
The Black Cats ended their six-game winless run with a superb 3-0 win against a Wigan Athletic side still looking likely to win automatic promotion this season.
Bailey Wright scored an early goal to set Sunderland on their way, before two Ross Stewart penalties secured a deserved win.
Neil said he had challenged the players before the game to prove that they could show resilience and stand up to a physical opponent, which has so often been a key failing on the road this season.
"That was the question mark before the game and that's what I said to the players before the game,"
"We need to prove to ourselves, and to everyone else, that we can stand up to these physical challenges.
"Even at half time, then it was, 'now you've done it for 45, have you got the steel to deliver in the second half?'
"I think players like challenges like that.
"The players rose their game to match that [physical challenge].
"It's not been easy [since I arrived], and even today we lost two centre-backs," he added.
"Arby has not played for a long, long time so I was delighted for him that he got an opportunity, and he put in a real, solid performance for us,
"There's always been a lot of challenges from day one, but it's really nice to come away from home against a good team, keep a clean sheet and send the fans home happy. They were terrific, backed us right through the match, and that was a real nice feeling at the end.
"We deployed a different strategy today, because they are very good at turning it down the sides and we needed to stop crosses into the box. We did that, in the main.
"We knew then that we would always be a threat in transition. I'm really pleased because everything we worked on this week, they've carried out to a tee.
"Everyone has done their jobs today but next week is a different game.
"I know we can't go out and play that way every week, different teams cause different problems, but we got the gameplan spot on today.
"Football is a simple game, but we sometimes complicate it by talking rubbish. We need to do the simple things well, which we did today. We competed, won our headers, picked up second balls, and had moments of quality.
"This is a really good platform for us."
Xhemajli's performance was superb given his long time away from league action due to a serious knee injury, and Neil said the team's gameplan helped him through.
"Arby is hungry to play, you saw at the end there he went down with cramp and that's always the concern," Neil said.
"I'll think he'll be OK.
"It's just trying to get people up to speed. What I will say that is because we didn't deploy a man-for-man system like we have done in one or two other games, that backline was protected.
"We played solid and narrow, and our two wide players and forwards did the bulk of the running."