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Alex Neil: Sunderland preparing for play-off final like a ‘normal working week’

Sunderland manager Alex Neil said he is treating build-up to their League One play-off final “as a normal week” (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Sunderland manager Alex Neil said he is treating build-up to their League One play-off final “as a normal week” (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Sunderland manager Alex Neil insisted his side are treating the build-up to their Sky Bet League One play-off final against Wycombe as “a normal working week”.

A 2-1 aggregate victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-finals saw the Black Cats set up a Wembley showdown with the Chairboys on Saturday afternoon.

A spot in the Championship is at stake for both sides, but Neil revealed in his pre-match press conference that his “relaxed, focused and ready” team are preparing for the final much as they would for any other fixture.

He said: “We don’t change our preparation for the game, it’ll be a normal sort of working week in the terms we look at it.

“In terms of what’s riding on the match, naturally there’s a lot more at stake in terms of how we approach it, how we go about it, but the processes from Monday to the game day will be pretty much the same.

“So in that sense, it is the same for us. I think everything that surrounds it is potentially different, but the preparation and how we go about it won’t differ.

“[The players are] relaxed, I don’t get any other sense of anything other than they’re focused, they’re relaxed, they’re looking forward to it. They look focused and ready, they know what’s coming and it’s a good atmosphere.”

Sunderland are playing in the League One play-offs for the third time since being relegated from the Championship in 2018.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday – Sky Bet League One – Play Off – Semi Final – First Leg – Stadium of Light
Sunderland beat Sheffield Wednesday over two legs to reach the League One play-off final (Richard Sellers/PA)

They have missed out on promotion on both previous occasions, losing the 2019 final 2-1 against Charlton and falling short with defeat to Lincoln in the semi-finals last year.

The Blacks Cats will be desperate to make it third time lucky this year and Neil insists his team’s focus will be firmly fixed on Wycombe and not what has gone before.

He said: “We’ve not discussed play-off histories because I don’t think it’s appropriate, it doesn’t impact this group of players.

“What we will do, there will be motivational stuff normally from me and the players, when they come in after their warm-up. Then speak to them in regards of how crucial the game is; what it means, what we need to make sure our mindset is like when we go into the match, make sure we’ve got all the bits we need in terms of aggression and enthusiasm, but equally you need to have cool heads and make key decisions at the right times.

“Again, that’s a normal process for us.”

Sunderland picked up four points against Wycombe in League One this season under Neil’s predecessor Lee Johnson, winning 3-1 in September and drawing 3-3 in January.

The Chairboys beat MK Dons 2-1 on aggregate in their play-off semi-final and Neil is expecting a game of “dangerous moments” against a side looking to make an immediate return to the Championship.

“I think there’ll be a contrast of styles, naturally, in terms of the way the two teams play. I think it’s going to be a game where there is going to be dangerous moments, throughout the match,” he said.

“I think that’s the one thing Wycombe have got, which is a great trait, is the fact that they’re always dangerous. Equally we have players that are capable of moments of magic.

“When you combine that on the pitch with what is at stake, that’s what makes it exciting. I’m hopeful it’s going be an exciting game, but I’m hopeful we come out the right side of it.”