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Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One

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More direct and dogged as Neil makes Sunderland ruthless

The performance certainly won’t live long in the memory, but has Alex Neil already made us a little more ruthless?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

You wouldn’t have thought it at half time. One-nil down against another lowly League One side, courtesy of another self-imposed defensive error.

Typical Sunderland? Not this time. Alex Neil is still in the process of stamping his own authority on this Sunderland team and the opening 45 was a bizarre mixture of old, new, bad and ugly with a few bright sparks in between.

It is obvious to me that Neil believes we have no time for continuing the Lee Johnson project of total football, especially inside our own half.

We’re more direct, rightly or wrongly taking advantage of Ross Stewart’s height, and the ability of our attacking players to pick up knock-ons and second balls.

Neil wasn’t scared to change things at halftime, changing the system and making bold substitutions, but crucially, we finally saw a level of intensity, tenacity and tempo to our play rarely seen since Sam Allardyce departed the club in 2016.

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

This was epitomised by Luke O’Nien, who deployed his usual battling qualities, capping his performance deservedly with the winning goal.

Luke and fellow crowd favourite Jermain Defoe lifted the fans, while Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke were both a breath of fresh air, especially in the absence of Alex Pritchard and Nathan Broadhead.

A special mention goes to my man of the match, Anthony Patterson, who made three vital saves and looked assured throughout. He is maturing and deserves to keep his place on current form.

Overall it’s less pretty under Alex Neil. Hopefully, though it will be more dogged and increasingly ruthless as we fight to get the wins we need moving forward.


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On This Day (24th February 2007): Miller’s late heroics send Sunderland fourth!

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