IT'S been a summer of change for Sunderland but perhaps the biggest change in the squad's personnel has come from teenage midfielder Dan Neil. 

After making just two appearances in League One last season, the 19-year-old has started every game of Sunderland's brilliant campaign to date. In midfield, he's demonstarted a technical ability beyond his years and taken his chance by the scruff of the neck. He added to his early season success with a terrific first senior goal smashing home from 25 yards in the 2-1 win over Accrington Stanley. 

Despite fierce competition for places, it would take something to dislodge Neil at this moment. 

As Neil was restricted to a handful of minutes in the league, he was set a challenge by the coaching staff to come back and prove he's worthy of a place in the first-team. 

Neil said: "Obviously last year was frustrating and I wanted to get more minutes but like I’ve said it was just about learning and I was maybe a bit too young to deal with that type of physical game.

"I learned the mental side and the physical side, tactical side off the pitch last year and then I got a challenge from the coaches and manager about getting a bit bigger and a bit faster with my first few yards.

"I think I’ve done that over the summer and the hard work has been paying off from over the summer and I just feel more comfortable.

"I’ve started every game including pre-season so playing every game and getting used to the tempo of the game and physicality of the game, I just feel more comfortable as the games go on.

"I always knew I was good enough on the ball technically and seeing passes.

"I think if I was more physical last year I would have been playing, but that was the side of the game I needed to improve in order to get into this team.

"I knew I could do the passing and driving forward with the ball but I’m proud of how I went about things in the off season.

"I did weights and plyometric exercises that will increase my speed and my power. I just worked incredibly hard over the off season and am glad that all that work has paid off.

"I’m just glad that all that hard work has paid off and the gaffer is trusting me to do the job in midfield.

Neil continues to live out his dream playing regularly for his boyhood club. It's common for teams to send their youngsters with potential out on loan to get a taste of first-team action. 

But for Sunderland's central midfielder, it's been far from the case and admits the idea wasn't even entertained as he just wants to improve whilst donning the colours of the Black Cats

Neil added: "I don’t think there was any talk of a loan move for anyone and it was just basically to show us you are ready to take the shirt.

"Obviously I did well in pre-season so there was no talk of a loan at all.

"My target when I first came in from the start was to just show that I’m ready to play in the first team.

"As things started progressing in pre-season it was like right I need to make sure I’m playing well in every game, trying to get a goal like I did against York.

"When I played the first game at left-back the target was to prove my versatility. Like Luke O’Nien, he can play anywhere which means he plays most weeks.

"That proved I can play in different positions and now I’m playing consistently it’s looking at numbers and picking up goals and assists.

"I’m sure if I keep working hard and doing what I’m doing I’ll pick up a few this season.

"I haven’t got a certain number, it’s just going into every game and making sure we can get the three points first and foremost. If I get an assist or a goal that’s a bonus.

"There wasn’t. I think he wanted to give all the young lads a chance first going into the start of the season, all the pre-season games."