Phil Parkinson must prioritise building on Dan Neil’s “fantastic” opportunity, after the “excellent” Sunderland gem earned a rare chance to feature in the midweek EFL Trophy defeat to Fleetwood Town.
Parkinson has been full of praise for Sunderland product Neil this week after awarding the 18-year-old his latest senior appearance, having brought a raft of changes to the starting XI which lost at Highbury Stadium on Tuesday night.
Neil had previously earned just three first-team outings totalling 145 minutes, but impressed against Fleetwood with Parkinson deeming the central midfielder’s first-half performance to have been among his best moments in a red and white shirt to date.
The performance produced was far more important than the result for Sunderland, having already qualified for the knockout stages, with Ollie Younger, Brandon Taylor and Josh Hawkes among those afforded minutes.
George Dobson – like Neil – caught Parkinson’s eye with his efforts, who later stated via quotes by the Chronicle: “In terms of some of the play in the first-half, some of the football, I thought Dan Neil and George Dobson were excellent in terms of their quality.
“It was probably Dan’s best 45 for us – he showed what he’s all about and I’m so pleased for him – and George as well. He’s had a difficult start to the season in terms of getting sent off, and his season hadn’t quite got going, but that was the best 45 minutes for George as well. I’m so pleased for him.”
Parkinson’s eye was not the only one caught by Neil’s display, either, with Black Cats icon Kevin Phillips swooning over the teenager’s performance while speaking with Football Insider.
“I think it is fantastic that Dan Neil took his chance,” he said. “It is great to see Neil given an opportunity and also taking it as well. It is a really encouraging for the football club.
“I have always said that Sunderland cannot afford to be letting their youngsters go. They have let far too many go over the last year, whatever the reason may be. The situation the country is in with youth players is something that might have to be looked at.”
With Neil’s display catching the attention of the likes of Parkinson and Phillips, the Black Cats must prioritise building on his “fantastic” chance in order to see further “excellent” displays from the rarely-seen prospect.
Neil proved to be sharp in the middle of the park against Fleetwood during the week, while always keeping his head up looking to play the ball forward.
This was evident most in the young talent completing six of his eight attempted long balls – only Brandon Taylor (16) and Dobson (15) attempted more among Sunderland’s outfield players, per SofaScore.
Neil additionally completed 27 of his total 33 passes for an 82% completion rate, registered 47 touches, was successful with one of two attempted dribbles, won three of six ground duels and each of his two aerial contests.
He may not have attempted a shot on goal as Sunderland struggled to just two on-target efforts all game, but Neil contributed defensively, as well, with two tackles, one interception and one clearance while never being dribbled past.
Neil will be hoping that his efforts impressed Parkinson enough to be considered for a League One debut soon, having so far failed to make a single third-tier matchday squad.