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Alex Neil taking nothing for granted as Sunderland earn slender lead over Owls

Sunderland manager Alex Neil is taking nothing for granted ahead of his side’s League One play-off semi-final, second leg clash with Sheffield Wednesday (Richard Sellers/PA)
Sunderland manager Alex Neil is taking nothing for granted ahead of his side’s League One play-off semi-final, second leg clash with Sheffield Wednesday (Richard Sellers/PA)

Sunderland boss Alex Neil is refusing to look too far ahead after seeing his side take a slender first-leg advantage in their League One play-off semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday.

Ross Stewart’s 25th goal of the season extended the Black Cats’ unbeaten run to 14 games with a 1-0 win in front of a crowd of 44,742 at the Stadium of Light to hand them a narrow lead ahead of Monday’s return at Hillsborough.

However, the Scot is in no danger of taking anything for granted as he attempts to steer a club which were playing in the Premier League just five years ago a step back up the ladder.

Neil said: “The potential is exactly why I came here. But what you just said there is potential, and potential means something that possibly could happen.

“At the moment, we’re a League One team because that’s where we are. We’re aspiring to not be a League One team, we want to try to get out of the league.

“But I’m so fed up of hearing, ‘This is not a League One club’. I’m a realist in terms of you are where you are in the league, so that’s what you are until you do otherwise. We’re trying to do otherwise just now.

“All we’ve done tonight is give ourselves an advantage – but we need to make that count.”

Stewart’s goal in first-half injury time settled the first leg, although Sunderland forward Alex Pritchard also hit the woodwork and other chances went begging before the home side had to survive a stern examination in the closing stages.

Neil said: “The only disappointment from our point of view was probably the fact that we didn’t add to the scoreline.

“Particularly from half-time to about 75 minutes, we probably had two or three glorious chances to double the scoreline, and it certainly wouldn’t have been any more than we deserved at that point.”

Wednesday boss Darren Moore’s half-time team talk changed radically after Stewart’s strike, but he was delighted with how his players responded.

He said: “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 re-group.

“For the first 20 minutes of the second half, they came at us again, but after 60-odd minutes I felt the pendulum swing.”