Sunderland bounced back from their 4-0 defeat to Portsmouth prior to the international break with a 2-1 win away at Gillingham on Saturday.
The Black Cats are one point off the top of the table, with two games in-hand on Plymouth and one on Wycombe – who sit 1st and 2nd respectively.
Aiden O’Brien and Tom Flanagan scored the goals for Lee Johnson’s side after they went 1-0 down in the first half, with Elliot Embleton also seeing red for a challenge in the 67th minute.
Flanagan scored the winning goal from centre-back and put in a solid display defensively, but another Sunderland player stole the show on the day – Dan Neil.
The teenage gem was sublime for the Black Cats as he impressed and helped Sunderland control the match and, ultimately, win the game. He was solid defensively and offensively as he caught the eye ahead of captain Luke O’Nien and the goalscorer Flanagan.
Neil’s SofaScore rating (7.4) was higher than O’Nien’s (6.6) and the highest in the team in terms of outfield players who failed to score. This highlights how well he was able to perform in midfield as his statistics made him stand out despite ending the game without a goal.
He did, however, provide an assist as he set up O’Brien’s equaliser in the first half. Alex Pritchard spread the ball out wide for Neil in an excellent position on the right and he whipped in a delicious, teasing, cross for the winger to prod the ball home in the six-yard box. The teenager put the ball into the corridor of uncertainty between the goalkeeper and the defender, allowing O’Brien to sneak in between them and get his foot to it first.
This was one of four key passes he produced during the game as he showed off his creativity. Per SofaScore, he also completed 100% of his attempted dribbles, two of his four attempted long passes and 84% of his passes overall, with 68 touches in the 90 minutes. This highlights the quality he was able to provide when in possession throughout the game.
Defensively, he put a shift in. Per SofaScore, he made one interception, two tackles and one block, whilst also winning three of his seven ground duels. There is room for improvement with his individual battles, but his numbers show that he was still able to make a positive contribution defensively on the whole, to go along with his impressive display on the ball.
Therefore, Neil stole the show for Johnson’s side ahead of the likes of Flanagan and O’Brien as he played a key role in Sunderland’s comeback to help them continue their assault towards promotion to the Championship.