Dan Neil explains how Sunderland role changed after Pierre Ekwah’s injury plus Blackburn and QPR wins

Dan Neil spoke to the Echo following Sunderland’s 3-1 win over Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Dan Neil says he’s had to switch his mindset following Pierre Ekwah’s injury setback which has altered the dynamics of Sunderland’s midfield.


Neil and Ekwah started The Black Cats’ first six league games together in the engine room, before the Frenchman was forced off in the first half during last weekend’s 3-1 win at QPR.


Ekwah also missed Wednesday’s 3-1 win at Blackburn, when Neil operated just in front of Sunderland’s back four, with Jobe Bellingham dropping back into a central midfield position.


“This year Pierre has played a bit of the deeper role that I kind of did last year,” Neil told the Echo when asked about his position. “I’ve been given that licence to get in the box, use my legs and try and be a bit more creative than I was last year.

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“With Pierre’s injury I kind of had to switch back into the number six role and kind of had that switch of mindset of I can’t always run off and get in the box. I have to be aware of transition and things like that.

“The experience of playing that role last year has really helped me and all it takes is a little switch to go from the number eight or number 10 role and switch straight into that six role.”


Despite only being 21, Neil is also one of the most experienced players in Sunderland’s young squad, with over 100 senior appearances under his belt.

The departures of Danny Batth and Lynden Gooch over the summer have also placed more responsibilities on the likes of Neil, Luke O’Nien, Dan Ballard, Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke.


“A little bit yeah,” Neil replied when asked if his leadership responsibilities have increased this term. “I think obviously I’ve played a lot of games but I think it’s a good thing for the likes of me, Ballard, even Luke who probably isn’t as experienced as most of the league in the Championship.


“Even Clarkey, Pat, it’s adding a new dimension to our game on the pitch and off the pitch. We have a very young group here and we’re the ones who have to be the experienced heads around here as weird as it sounds.”


“We have to keep our feet on the ground just as much as the young lads and I think the balance at the minute is really good and we just need to keep it going.”

Sunderland’s win over Blackburn made it three consecutive wins for Tony Mowbray’s side in the Championship, something they didn’t manage to achieve as they reached the play-offs last season.


“In any job and in any walk of life when you’re doing something the expectations are to do it again and do better,” Neil added.


“We came into this season a little bit gutted about last season and potentially getting back-to-back promotions, but we knew we had a young squad that is still developing.


“I think that year in the Championship last year really, really helped us and we can come to places like this and pick up points.

“Last year we were newly promoted and proved we can get in the play-offs so I think teams have a lot more respect, especially when we’re at home but we’re finding a way to pick up results.”


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