During his first few weeks in charge, Alex Neil has had a few things to tweak in order to get the team playing the way he prefers, and he’s had relatively no time to get his full style across to the players.
Games have been coming thick and fast since Neil’s appointment, and most of the work he and his team have done is to prepare for the next fixture on the list.
The main and glaring concern that Neil and his team faced as they walked through the door was in reducing the amount of goals our defense was letting in.
Although his history shows that the gaffer likes a bit more of a free-flowing football team, keeping goals from going in at the other end is how teams get promoted.
Over his first handful of games in charge, the bulk of Neil’s energy and focus has been placed on that very task. Our defense in that time has, on the whole, looked much sturdier.
The worry that’s been raised during that time is that we haven’t been scoring the likes of which we had grown used to seeing under Johnson and Co.
However, Alex Neil had two weeks prior to Oxford to get the players drilled in the way he likes to play. He had two weeks to ensure that his defensive setup is now airtight for our run-in. He had two weeks to get the midfield playing together as a cohesive unit working the ball forward to our front players. And he had two weeks to get our lethal frontline in the right mindset and understanding of how to play in his new tweaked system.
I would argue that the international break came at the perfect time to ensure that Sunderland are hitting on all cylinders as we look to the final month of our last League One season.
Enter Easter Weekend - a massive lineup of games that will no doubt have season-defining consequences. And after turmoil early on in 2022, Sunderland now find themselves the team in form, grinding out results and pressing on toward the finish line.
Shrewsbury has been billed as a potential banana skin for the lads, but I see plenty that Neil and Co can use to get the lads up for - and we’ve seen time and again how well the gaffer manages games and can make in-game adjustments to ensure results.
I see three points with very little resistance.
Plymouth on Monday then sets up to be another massive game. But, again, Oxford as an example, I have no doubt that the manager will have us geared up for the challenge.
If and when we do bag two wins over Easter, we could look up and find ourselves in a very nice position for playoff “security”. I’d see no reason for us not to kick right on for the rest of the campaign, a resurrected giant of a club on the warpath back to where we belong!