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Neil puts success down to experience - just how important will it prove to be for Sunderland?

Saturday finally gave the Sunderland fans the answer to the question which has left so many of them scratching their heads – Why does Alex Neil continue to put Cory Evans in the starting eleven?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The cheers for our 95th minute winner had barely subsided when Alex Neil gave one his most illuminating interviews during his spell at the club.

He addressed the Cory Evans question, and in doing so posed an even bigger one.

Looking at the game and the fact that once again the team kept a clean sheet, Neil said the key was the experience that he put at the heart of the defence and, mentioning Evans by name, in the holding role in front of the back four.

There we have it. Neil wants an experienced head in the anchor role, so despite the ire from some supporters at some of Evans’ performances, his experience is likely to get him in ahead of his younger - and some would say more mobile and dynamic - rivals for the role.

Neil has laid his cards on the table that in his view, old heads are better than younger ones.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Trai Hume Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

He did however seem to contradict that by saying he picks the team to beat the individual opposition. That might be the case, but if so, Evans is clearly seen as the lynchpin in the spine of the team.

If Neil is to put his faith in experience, what does this mean for the crop of exciting youngsters we have in the squad?

From the outset of the campaign Callum Doyle was brilliant, and until he began to feel the pace of the season he often looked in a different class.

Broadhead has been brilliant when not injured, and Stewart has been the most complete centre forward I have seen at the club for a long time given those who have gone before him in the recent past. Neil and Embleton have shown just how good they are, and none of the above could be called experienced.

On Friday we had the Qatar World Cup draw. The pundits were all raving about England, with one saying England have the most complete squad at the tournament.

They went on to say that what stood the squad apart from their rivals was its youth, so clearly, England have gone down the “if you’re good enough you’re old enough” route and are deemed to be successful.

England U19 v Portugal U19 - UEFA European Under-19 Championship Qualifier Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

I believe Alex Neil has done an excellent job since he has been here, and he is starting to get a shape to his side, which suits a game plan which is built on not conceding and a high press.

But a high press requires energy, and dare I say that energy comes from youthful legs.

Many of the club’s problems can be traced back to a transfer policy that has seen the club pay good money to players who were quality but arrived at the SoL in the twilight of their careers, proving experience is not a cast-iron guarantee of success.

I hope, as a Scotsman, Neil can take a few lessons from those who create its most famous export. He needs to distil this squad into one where youth and experience can bring the best out of each other, and then create a single blend that delivers a team that can get us out of this division come the end of May.


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