We needed a bit of optimism – Alex Neil delight as struggling Stoke claim win

By Sports Desk October 21, 2023

Alex Neil praised his Stoke side for securing a valuable 2-1 victory over his former employers Sunderland, saying “we needed a bit of optimism”.

First Potters league goals for Ryan Mmaee and Luke McNally either side of Jack Clarke’s leveller secured a first home win since August to help Stoke open up a five-point gap above the relegation zone.

Neil, who left Sunderland last year to take over at Stoke, said: “I am really pleased. We needed the win, irrespective of who we were playing against.

“The [Sunderland] fans were always going to fire a few shots at me, which is fine and I get it.

“But for our lads, the club and our supporters, we needed a bit of optimism, a good performance and certainly three points under our belt.”

Mmaee opened the scoring inside seven minutes but Championship top scorer Clarke equalised for high-flying Sunderland moments later.

The hosts regained the lead shortly after the interval when McNally headed home a deep Daniel Johnson corner.

And, despite a late Black Cats onslaught, Stoke held on to earn only their fourth league win of the campaign.

Neil added: “We’re a team very much in transition and that’s frustrating because the nature of the Championship is you need to win games.

“I think the fans understand where we are as a club; you want your club to win games and you want to be successful and push on up the league.

“But I think we need to recognise where we currently are and that we do have great potential.

“Naturally Sunderland piled pressure on at the end and they’re the best games to win when you really need to dig in, so it’s really satisfying.

“At the end of the day, the proof’s in the pudding and you need to do it on the pitch, but I thought against a really good side, we more than matched them.

“We’ve got some tough games coming up so today was a good day for us.”

It was a frustrating afternoon for the visitors, who were denied a fourth successive away league victory as they slipped to sixth in the table.

The best efforts of Clarke and co could not prevent Sunderland from falling to a second defeat in a row, but they remain in the play-offs.

“It was a frustrating day for us and we didn’t start either half well enough,” said boss Tony Mowbray.

“It’s almost like you need a slap before you react to the fight.

“We talked about trying to be ready for the physical confrontation and we fell a little bit short today in that aspect.

“We created enough chances today not to lose the match but we fell below par for the way we play and what we do.

“Not just for the goals; it looks like a blatant handball the first one and then it’s frustrating for any football team to concede from a corner.

“In our defence, we’ve only had one training day with the team that started today so it’s probably understandable that we weren’t at our fluent best.

“We’re a young team; coming to Stoke City is never easy and they have to learn that intensity, aggression and closing down is all part of the game.

“You either stand up to it and play around it or you succumb, and I think we weren’t brave enough.

“Were they hanging on at the end? Maybe. Should we have scored? Yeah, but we didn’t so it goes in the history books as 2-1 and we have to live with it.”

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