Lee Johnson warned Sunderland’s title rivals that the Black Cats still have plenty of room for improvement after seeing them move two points clear at the top of League One with a 2-1 victory over fellow high-flyers Accrington.
Dan Neil’s first senior goal put the Black Cats ahead before Michael Nottingham headed Stanley – who started the day in second spot – back into the game.
But Sunderland sealed the points when Carl Winchester broke free from the right-hand side into the box from Aiden McGeady’s through ball and stroked his shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
The victory meant that Sunderland have now won four games out of four at the Stadium of Light this season and have just lost one game from eight in all competitions.
Johnson, who recently claimed the League One manager of the month award, maintained that John Coleman’s Stanley were tough opponents but emphasised the need for his side to continue their work in the same vein with a trip to Fleetwood awaiting them next weekend.
Johnson said: “It was a difficult game and I knew it would be, I know how well John does with this team.
“They’re a big, strong, aggressive and good side. We gave away too many needless set-plays in the first half, giving them away when the opponent is facing away from goal. That’s what they want and what they play for, and they cause you problems.
“I did think we were very slick when we broke through the press and my frustration is probably that we didn’t score more goals.
“However, we’re still a team that’s growing and in a learning phase.
“It was a great goal from Dan Neil and that was a real win for the academy and everybody involved in his development.
“It was definitely a lump in the throat moment as that went in because he’s such a lovely lad. He’s got to continue to stay focused, you can’t lose that but I really don’t think he will.
“We’ve got so much growth still in us, and we need to keep dealing with these challenges.
“We’ve been tested this season against strong sides. I don’t think we’ve played any teams in the bottom half yet, which shows how strong the league is.
“I think the fans see that, as well.
“It was good entertainment, I’d have liked to see us get one or two more but I’m sure they would say the same.
“We need to keep progressing, learning, and finding a way to win.
“That’s what’s impressive about so far, we’ve shown quality but we’ve also battled and I think the fans have played their part in that.
“The fans can see the commitment, and the youth we’ve got in the team.
“We can all see the mistakes but it’s young players and they’re seeing other young players recover, and that can be really powerful moving forward.”
Stanley boss Coleman felt his side deserved at least a point from the game
He said: “I thought we did enough to get something out of the game.
“We gave as good as we got, made as many chances as them, probably had the same amount of shots on target. But we gave up silly chances, gave the ball away too cheaply in the first half, got a grip of the game, got the equaliser and looked the stronger going into half-time.
“They started brightly in the second half, pinned us back and in that spell they scored and that’s what did it as the last half-hour was one-way traffic.
“No disrespect to the likes of Bamber Bridge, Matlock, but if somebody had told me 20 years ago that we would come here and in the last 15 minutes they would have five rigid defenders trying to keep us out…they would have probably carted me away!
“We have to defend better and we have to take our chances when we get them.”
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