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What are your early impressions of Alex Neil as Sunderland manager?

What would your early report card say about the job Alex Neil has done so far as manager? A few of us take a go at doing ours... let us know if you agree!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Kev Campbell says...

I think Alex Neil has been a canny appointment, especially when you consider the mis-management of his hiring. He was brought in under the shadow of a horrendous, drawn out process including a PR nightmare.

In spite of that, he has shown that he’s not been moved from the task at hand and his no-nonsense approach in all facets is refreshing in every way. Most obviously he’s brought a toughness and tenacity to our side that was desperately in need in that area. He’s helped sure up a leaky defense that may prove being the key to keeping us in the play-off mix.

He fits the personality of the club as well. He’s hard working, straight forward, and accepts nothing short of full effort in every area of the team. He’s also got play-off experience which could prove to be a valuable asset and most importantly, he’s proven to have quality to manage successfully in the league above.

Positive early signs, and loads to build on moving forward.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

My first impressions of Alex Neil are not good.

We all knew before his appointment that he was a man who wouldn’t mince his words, and whilst his honesty and directness has been in stark contrast to the bluster of his predecessor, sometimes Neil has been too keen to point the finger of blame anywhere but towards himself.

Red flags were being waved early doors when Neil lambasted his players for playing too much in central areas of the park - whilst playing a midfield three. Other instances have followed like crediting himself with game-changing substitutions which would be of merit had his team selections not omitted the players who should have started in the first place.

In terms of our style so far, well, it has been turgid and more of a chore to watch than it has been for a long time. It’s dour, and lacking any kind of pop or pace to proceedings whilst also being void of any kind of flare. The general patterns of play have been very simplistic and one dimensional, with most our games centering around launching it long to Ross Stewart.

Alongside that is the seemingly constant desire to have his wingers cut inside, robbing them of both variation and creativity. Whilst credit can be given for the fact that Neil has seen the defence tighten up, it has come to the detriment of our attacking flare which has been evidenced in our recent struggles to break down some of the worst teams in the league.

One final issue I have with Neil was a comment he stated recently relating to fans expectancy saying ”its easier to come here and expect to be 3-0 at half time and that’s never going to be the case” - which would have been fine if it hadn’t already happened more than once this season. Just imagine if any other manager said that?

Whilst others may be happy with Neil and his rather dour brand of apparently pragmatic football, I cant profess to be one of them.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says...

Alex Neil’s appointment will be coloured for many fans I would imagine by the manner of the need for his arrival. It is not his fault at all that the club appeared to go into faux-pas mode for January, making some odd decisions and mis-handling situations (some of which were of their own creation).

Having made the decision to sack LJ, the club were in part responsible for ramping up expectation that Keane was on his way! We then emerge into the February gloom with Alex Neil at the helm.

He was given a mountain to climb with the fans before he had even started climbing the mountain of promotion out of League One. Stating the obvious, all will be forgiven (if not forgotten) if promotion is achieved.

Neil has made some changes, and the very welcome improvement in our defensive play and goals conceded is obvious.

He is forthright even blunt in his public persona. I get the feeling he is not influenced too much by the old adage “discretion is the better part of valor”. This trait can sometimes come across as throwing others under a bus when it goes wrong and taking all the credit when it goes right. I do not think this is what he is doing, but I understand why some think this is so.

His prioritising of defensive improvement has seen our attacking play suffer. Gone is the swift, one touch “playing through the lines” raiding that had us purring at times under LJ. This had been replaced by a more methodical predictable approach, as we build attacks from the wings, and try long diagonal balls from defense and into the opposition box. This has been a hard and difficult watch for many of us with the recent memory of our swash-buckling top of the table performance against Sheffield Wednesday still fresh in the mind.

A quick look at Neil’s previous history at Hamilton, Norwich and Preston would suggest he is not fixed on one particular formation or style of play, rather that he will try and get the best out of available players and change things around pending the opposition.

I think it has taken him a little while to get his head around the squad he has inherited (no criticism there, just an obvious observation that we do not have time on our side). There were signs for me in the Lincoln game of a more fluent and variable attack.

In some respects the international break may have come at the wrong time in terms of momentum, time will tell. Neil has shown a willingness to use his bench and change not just personnel but formation, I like that.

He has given Roberts and Clarke more game time, as well as resting Dan Neil and Doyle who were in clear need of this. Both have since returned, with Dan Neil looking like he is on his way back to his best and Doyle’s brief cameo at Lincoln looking promising too.

As we arrive into the squeaky bum end of the season, I do not envy Alex Neil’s task. I do think his appointment could yet prove to be a good one in the circumstances that presented at the time. If he can maintain our meanness in defence and build upon a more fluent, faster attacking display against Lincoln we could yet make the play-offs with a bit of late in the season momentum to carry us to Wembley and beyond.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

It’s a really strange one for me, as I genuinely don’t know how I feel about him. I reckon if we’d stuck with Lee Johnson we’d have been in a better position now than we currently are, so it’s difficult to be overly positive about his time in charge so far.

We’ve strengthened up at the back, granted – so I guess that’s something to put in the ‘plus’ column. Defensively under Johnson we were appalling at times, so looking longer term this is pleasing to see. 

And, let’s be honest, it was the two games the Chuckle Brothers took charge of that turned us from play off certainties to hopefuls.

That said, Neil’s tactics and team selections have been odd – he’s trying things, I get it, but I don’t feel it was a situation in which we needed to be ‘trying things’. We had a good base under Lee Johnson, and it feels to me Neil watched videos of more recent performances went things weren’t going well, as opposed to games in which we’d performed strongly earlier in the season. 

The performances in recent home games have been the worst of the season, and that’s a huge concern. Add into that the fact that we’ve not been able to break through at Charlton and Lincoln, and it’s not been a great start for him.

Hopefully, the two week break will have done us good as we prepare for the weekend’s game. We’ll see.

Regardless, I think with a pre season he’ll do well, whichever division we’re in.

The concern is, will he be given the time? Lee Johnson was scarred in many eyes by his failure in the run in last year, and I fear Alex Neil will be too if we don’t go up.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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