Neil hones in on City Championship reunion

Ex-Norwich City manager Alex Neil faces his old club this coming season with Sunderland

Ex-Norwich City manager Alex Neil faces his old club this coming season with Sunderland - Credit: PA

Sunderland chief Alex Neil confessed to a sneak peek to find out when he faced a Championship reunion with Norwich City on fixture release day.

Neil is striving to emulate his previous Premier League promotion success at the Canaries, after guiding the Black Cats to League One play-off glory last season. 

The Scot memorably led Norwich to a 2015 Championship play-off win at Wembley, to cap a whirlwind initial impact at Carrow Road, but was unable to keep City in the Premier League. 

The former Hamilton boss, who also spent four years at Preston, is under no illusions how tough the second tier is. 

“The difficulty you have got is, unlike League One in my sample, is you can play top and bottom of the league and each game is as difficult as the other,” he said. “There are no easy points.

"You need to fight tooth and nail for every point. If we understand that, if we can add as much quality and depth in terms of our recruitment, then we give ourselves the best chance.

"We discuss those type of elements on a daily basis. There is a change in intensity, in mindset and the toll it takes physically and mentally for the players at this level.” 

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Neil welcomes Dean Smith’s squad to the north-east on August 27. 

“I mainly look at times, rather than the fixtures themselves, when they come out,” he said. “At the start of the season you want some good fixtures to get early points on the board.

"You naturally look at the Christmas period, because you know how congested that is, and finally what the run in looks like, which could be vitally important for a variety of reasons.

"That is generally the areas I look at  - the crunch times of the season that can dictate how successful you are this season. Then obviously I have a couple of ex-clubs, and once I had sussed out what is what I did want to see where they landed as well.” 

Ex-Norwich loanee Patrick Roberts was a key figure in Sunderland’s play-off triumph last season, and has now pledged his longer term future to the Black Cats over the summer. 

“I have always like Patrick as a player. I tried to sign him on a couple of occasions for different clubs,” said Neil, speaking to his club site. “When I came in here and worked with him he was exactly what I anticipated.

"Real quality, he can make the difference in big games. Great work ethic, excellent attitude and he will be really important for us again this season.”