WHILE Dan Neil is still in the infancy of his career, he's adamant that now is the time to step up to the first-team at Sunderland. 

Midfielder Neil, 19, is in pre-season training with the squad and made an impression in the Black Cats midweek friendly draw with York City, playing 90 minutes and scoring their only goal of the game. A moment to savour for the Sunderland fan who was born in South Shields. 

While competition for places in the heart of Sunderland's midfield is stiff, the club are scouring the market for new additions ahead of the new League One season which would increase Neil's odds of holding down a place in the team. 

However, after some words of wisdom from manager Lee Johnson, Neil is determined to make the most of his opportunity. 

"Last season I thought I had a very good pre-season, but I was still a very young lad compared to all the experienced heads we had" Neil told the media. 

"I think last year was just about being full-time with the senior team for the first time, really getting to know about how they go about things on and off the pitch, learning the game from the stands.

"Obviously I played here and there, but this year coming into pre-season it was about trying to stamp my authority and show that I have learned from last season and get in this team.

"The gaffer said that I needed to improve a bit of size and my first few yards. It wasn't so much the technical side of my game, he said that I can deal with that, it's more the physical - dealing with pressure, the first few yards away from my man.

"I've worked on that over the summer and I think that's put me in a better place to push and break into this team.

"I was once in that crowd as well. I was just as demanding as the crowd out there when I was younger. It's a challenge that I'm looking forward to and hopefully it comes sooner rather than later."

The pre-season months will prove to be a big period of time for Neil as he looks to complete minutes on the pitch and soak up some time amongst the first team.

Neil was also a feature in Sunderland's 2-2 friendly draw against Spennymoor Town at the beginning of the month, where the local lad pulled on the captain's armband at the Brewery Field. 

"It was a bit of a shock in the changing room when he said.

"Obviously it was a dream come true. Although it was only Spennymoor, it's still a dream come true to lead the lads out in any game, whether it's a friendly, cup game, league game.

"I was delighted with it. I had my back to him, somebody asked, and he said 'Dan is going to be captain today.' I thought I didn't hear him properly! I was a bit shocked."

The 19-year-old hasn't tasted much first-team experience and has made just two substitute appearances in the league but it's obvious to see he holds a promising future with the Black Cats. 

Depending on Sunderland's activity in the transfer market, a loan move might seem like a sensible option for the youngster if game time was hard to come by but Neil says he's just concentrating on game time for his parent club. 

"At the minute a loan isn't on my mind. I can think about that more when it comes to the end of August, at the moment there's a lot of games where I've got the chance to stamp my authority and give the gaffer a message that I want to be in this team.

"Until I'm told that isn't going to happen, then a lot might happen - but for now I'm fully focused on Sunderland."