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Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One

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Editorial: It’s a big week, but I trust this manager and I trust these players

Trust the process, trust the gaffer, and trust the Lads - they’re going to need our full backing this week to help push us over the line.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

If I was a Sunderland player right now I think I‘d love to play for Alex Neil.

Because deep down, we all like honesty, right?

Well, they don’t come much more honest than Alex - just ask the local press.

The way he comes across whenever he’s plonked in front of a camera, acting like he’d rather be anywhere but sat right there at that moment, is just brilliant.

He’s got no time for stupidity, and he doesn’t particularly care for anyone else’s opinion. When things are working and going smoothly, it’s the perfect approach - it portrays the image of a man who is in full control of the situation.

And, it’s reflected in our results. Whether you enjoy his football or not, there’s no denying that what he’s doing works - we’re on a fantastic run, and we’re so much better than we have been at any point this season as an overall outfit.

We aren’t perfect but we finally look like a team ready for the play-offs.

We’ve got a solid defence, a goalkeeper who is improving with each game, a captain in the middle who has finally found his feet, runners around him, creative players who are producing the goods, and two strikers who know where the net is.

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

If you were Rotherham, or any other side for that matter, would you really want to be playing against Sunderland at the minute?

Of course, it’s not perfect - the way we conceded so quickly after scoring on Saturday shows we still have work to do - but it’s about as good as it’s going to get, I feel.

These players all know their jobs, they’re all on the same page, and they have a great bond.

They’re working hard for one another and we have quality from front to back, with strikers who are more than willing to do their bit not just in front of goal, but when the chips are down and we need to work harder defensively, too.

These standards all come from the man at the top - Alex Neil sets them, and the players follow suit. His no-bullshit approach to management clearly works, and the Sunderland players are responding by delivering in high-pressure situations.

When Cambridge scored at the weekend, I immediately looked to the dugout area, where Alex Neil stuck his boot straight through the drinks bottles on the touch line, sending them everywhere. What did the bottles ever do to deserve such a savage beating?

He wants people to be accountable for their actions, and he certainly won’t make excuses for things when they go wrong. I liked the last manager a lot, but it’s safe to say that his way of doing things was totally different, and perhaps the players now are thriving better in an environment where taking ownership is encouraged.

Of course, I could be made to eat my words if things don’t go right this week - but, in truth, I have total faith in the ability of our head coach and the squad to deliver.

It’s been a bloody long time since I could say that, let me tell you.

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

The draw at Plymouth to me was the perfect dress rehearsal for the away leg of a play-off semi. Then, at home, we’ve shown how good we are. We’ve shown how we can make the Stadium of Light a fortress by starting quickly and scaring teams with our pace and our high-tempo style of play.

The last two times we’ve been in the play-offs we’ve done it after suffering a loss in form and confidence. We dropped out of the automatic places and ended up with the booby prize - and because we had no momentum, we didn’t ultimately have what it takes to get over the line.

This time, if we do get there - and I believe that we will - it’ll feel totally different.

We accepted long ago that automatic promotion was out of reach. We’ve been hoping for a play-off spot pretty much since this manager came in - and that good feeling could carry us right the way through.

Trust the process, trust the gaffer, and trust the Lads. They need our backing and our support more than ever to carry us over the line this week, starting on Tuesday in what is an absolutely massive game against a team who still have lots to play for.

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