Phil West says...
Thus far, I think Alex Neil has done a solid if not spectacular job during his short time at the helm. He was pitched into the job at a very awkward time, with a squad that wasn’t ‘his’, and has therefore had precious little time to implement his own style of play and attempt to resolve some of the issues left behind in the wake of Lee Johnson’s departure.
I like the way Neil has conducted himself in terms of communication and his analysis of games. He comes across as no-nonsense, straight-talking, and the kind of boss who has no fear of navigating his way through what will undoubtedly be a fraught final two months of the season.
Whereas Johnson was more charismatic and breezy, Neil is much more belligerent and closer to, say, Mick McCarthy in terms of his demeanour. He hasn’t come here to make friends and influence people. He’s here to win matches and ensure this football club has a chance of reaching the Championship as soon as possible.
Neil has undoubtedly made us harder to play against, and has toughened us up mentally. We haven’t dazzled in many of his matches so far, and have often had to endure some tricky periods and poor periods of play, but there is definitely a greater level of organisation, and there are several players currently going through upturns in form, such as Dennis Cirkin, which is encouraging.
I think the balance between defensive solidity and attacking prowess is an issue that Neil is still addressing, and with Dan Neil surely recharged after a period out of the team, his return will be much-anticipated. Neil also deserves credit for opting to give Arbenit Xhemajli his chance, and so far, that is a move that has paid off quite well.
We haven’t fully clicked as an attacking unit, yet (Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts certainly tried to get us going against Fleetwood, however) but I do think that will eventually happen. At home, it’s going to be vital that we try to start games with intensity & a high tempo, instead of being too cautious, and I hope that, starting with Crewe, this Saturday, Neil encourages the players to play with greater freedom as well as being solid at the back.
Overall? A 6/10 rating for Neil so far.
Andrew Smithson says...
We’ve been in this position with new managers before and over time the situation could change, but my initial impressions of Alex Neil are pretty positive. I like the way he speaks to the media and if his messages to the squad are as clear and straightforward as they are to the fans, there should be no confusion from the players.
On the pitch we already look to be a bit more direct and being able to mix up our play is no bad thing. We seem a bit more streetwise too and that has been something we’ve needed for a long time - Lee Johnson had already got us moving in the right direction I felt but these were two areas that needed more work still so that is an encouraging start.
It will take a little longer to implement all of Neil’s ideas though, and as we could see against Fleetwood Town some of the same old problems are still going to keep cropping up for now. The job is made harder by the injuries and lack of options in some areas but there seems to be a plan at least and you can see what we are trying to do.
Given the situation the club has found itself in we could have done with an immediate new manager bounce but the fact is there are so many deep-rooted issues at SAFC getting us back where we want isn't as easy as just clicking your fingers. We’ve picked up 5 more points in Neil’s first 6 matches than we had in the previous 6 though, and I think we’ve seen enough already to give hope of more improvement in coming weeks.
Michael Dunne says...
Alex Neil took over a squad that was bereft of confidence and any sort of defensive structure or discipline. The team were leaking goals and had become a soft touch.
Neil knew this and had to change it. Since his arrival, the team have certainly become a lot more solid. It took Neil a bit of time but the last few weeks have shown a more solid Sunderland.
Arbenit Xjemajli has replaced Callum Doyle and whilst he is certainly limited in certain areas, the Kosovan has a point to prove and has kept it simple.
Neil did the right thing when dropping Doyle. The on-loan teenager looked shot of confidence and if it wasn’t for the injury crisis, he would have been dropped earlier.
Neil’s emphasis on defence has somewhat diluted the attacking threat of the team. There is a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul about this dilemma. Sunderland don’t look half as good going forward as they have for most of the season.
Their attacking play has become very one dimensional in my opinion. Earlier in the season, Lee Johnson had the team playing some swashbuckling front foot football. The team could retain possession for long periods of time and they created many chances.
Now, I feel like the style of play is very basic. Long balls into the isolated Ross Stewart or balls to the wings and crosses into the box. Again, where Stewart is isolated. Up until last night, most of Sunderland’s goals came from the head of Ross Stewart of set plays.
It is a worry but one would hope if Neil can ensure we are tight at the back, the team will evolve from there.
I still find it very early in his tenure to be too critical or have too much of an opinion. Time will tell with Alex Neil. Certain things are positive ie the defence but there is still far more to do to ensure we are a cohesive unit from front to back.