Sunderland have enjoyed a very encouraging start to the season in League One and the signs are there that this could finally be the year they earn promotion back to the Championship.
However, their 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth before the international break was a major reminder to the Black Cats that they can not get complacent after their strong start to the campaign. Lee Johnson’s side have to ensure that they maintain their performance levels and show the right response to that heavy loss.
Another situation at Sunderland that they can not afford to take their eye off is the long-term future of impressive midfield talent Daniel Neil.
That comes with Johnson admitting to the media in the past week that the 19-year-old’s performances are likely to now be catching the eye of other clubs further up the Football League pyramid.
Neil has truly now established himself within Sunderland’s squad and he has made eight starts and nine appearances in total for the Black Cats in their opening 11 league fixtures of the season.
During that time, the 19-year-old’s quality has been on full show with him managing to average 0.6 shots, one key pass and 1.1 tackles per game, as well as maintaining a passing accuracy of 79%.
The 19-year-old has also managed to register one goal and two assists in the league. He added further to his tally this term with an excellent strike in the Black Cats’ 2-1 win at Lincoln City in the Papa John’s Trophy last week.
It is clear that on his current trajectory Neil will soon be in a position where he outgrows the level of League One football. Sunderland at the moment seem to be on track to ensure that they themselves secure a route out of the third tier by the end of the campaign.
Doing that is going to be vital to securing the long-term future of a player with Neil’s potential. So, with Johnson’s warning to them over the interest that the midfielder will be gaining from other sides right now, the Black Cats have to move quick to convince him to remain with them for the foreseeable future.
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It would be a huge sign of the progress that has been made at Sunderland under Johnson if they were able to convince a player with Neil’s quality to commit his long-term future to them.
Johnson is a manager with a strong track record of developing young and talented players and taking their games on to another level. Therefore, there is certainly a case that Neil’s long-term future will be benefitted by sticking around at the Stadium of Light.
However, Sunderland need to make this a priority because if other teams start to show an interest it could leave Neil in a position where he might want to secure a move away from the club.