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League One

Neil looking to build on first half performance: How the bosses reacted to the first leg

9 May 2022

Sunderland head coach Alex Neil is hoping his side can build upon their impressive first leg display against Sheffield Wednesday in the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi-Final ahead of the restart at Hillsborough later this evening.

Fine margins separate the Black Cats and the Owls heading into a sold-out second leg on Sheffield Wednesday’s turf, and the Scotsman’s only regret was that Sunderland aren’t more on top for their trip to South Yorkshire.

Sunderland take a slender 1-0 lead into the break, after edging Darren Moore’s men in the first leg, with Ross Stewart’s effort the only goal of the game.

"The only disappointment from our point of view is that we didn't add to the score-line,” Neil explained, reflecting on the first leg. “From half-time to about 75 minutes, we probably had two or three glorious chances to double the score-line, and it certainly wouldn't have been any more than we deserved at that point.

“We totally controlled the game in the first half. I would have liked to have created more chances but it is hard when a team sits in as a five. I changed our shape and our strategy for this game from what we have been doing of late and I thought it worked really, really, well – we probably just didn't get the ball in the final third enough to create more chances."

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The Black Cats took a step closer to Wembley on Friday evening, with Neil looking to end the Club’s four-year stay in the division.

And despite having a lead to defend in the second leg, the 40-year-old was buoyed by what he saw at the Stadium of Light.

"I thought we were excellent," he added. "It's live on Sky, it's a big game, but the players then have to take that expectation and atmosphere, soak it up, and try to put in a good performance, which I think they did.

"At half-time, the conversation was about the fact that what you don't want to do in the second half is under-perform, because that's the bit that everyone remembers when they leave. People don't remember first halves, they remember second halves, and the last bit of the game.

"What I said to them was 'don't under-perform in the second half because you will leave everybody going away not talking about how well you did in the first 45 minutes'. To be fair to them, for the first half-hour of the second half I thought they were even better, so all credit to them, I thought they were excellent.”

Moore not surprised by first leg

Opposition boss Moore chose to focus on the positives to note, with all still to play for and 90 minutes left on the watch.

"Honestly, it was exactly how I thought it would go,” he said. “We knew we had to keep the crowd quiet and just before half-time your speech is a certain and the next minute it's about not letting the disappointment seep into the second half.

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“You go in at 0-0 and the onus is on them but at half-time we had 15 minutes to settle them down and regroup. For the first 20 minutes of the second half, they came at us again but after 60-odd minutes I felt the pendulum swing. It's not easy here with a full house under the lights.”

The Owls boss has asked his players, who kept the score-line down for the most part of the clash, for more of what he saw in the last half-hour on Tyne and Wear.

"The positives were that the boys were dogged and put their bodies on the line,” he continued. “The goal was avoidable, and we accept that but after about 60 or 65 minutes, I just felt the energy on the pitch change, and we finished the game a lot stronger without looking really that threatening. We could have used it better.

"The game lived up to my expectations, we knew we had to stay dogged. I said to them at half-time we don't concede again, make sure you do your jobs and stay in the game because we'll get our moments. That's how it panned out."


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