AFTER stepping out in front of 45,000 spectators at the Stadium of Light and into the dugout last Friday, Alex Neil has declared his pride for being in charge of the Black Cats and says he won’t take those moments for granted.

A near sell-out crowd watched the Black Cats take a slender one goal lead from the first leg of their League One play-off semi final.

Neil has been doing a splendid job on Wearside having guided his side into the League One play-offs over the course of a 14 match unbeaten run. They head to Hillsborough tonight needing to hold onto their 1-0 first leg lead against Sheffield Wednesday. If they do that, Wycombe Wanderers await the winners at Wembley on Saturday 21st May.

Despite his pride, the Scotsman is no stranger to managing on the big stage. He guided Norwich City to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs beating Middlesbrough 2-0 at Wembley Stadium in 2015.

But he declared last week’s game as one of the biggest moments in his career. “That came from humble beginnings as a player” said the Black Cats boss.

Despite managing in the Premier League and being in the dugout for a number of years, he doesn’t consider himself to be a household name as he continued: “I haven’t had the luxury of being a big name player.

“I played Championship with a little bit of Barnsley, dropped down a couple of divisions, played League One for a little bit, one season in League Two and then back up to Scotland.

“I wasn’t a big name player and to be in the circumstance where I’ve managed at Wembley and won a play-off final, to be at Sunderland where there is 45,000 and how much it means to everybody, that’s all through hard work, determination and studying your craft and putting in the hours.”

“Equally, any young kid starting out wanting to be involved in football, it’s an absolute dream.

“I’m not a big reflector of things but sometimes you’ve got to look and think about how fortunate you are to be in that situation. That was certainly one of them.”

A 30,000 plus crowd are expecting to be in attendance at Hillsborough this evening with Sunderland looking to overcome a raucous atmosphere to reach their second play-off final in four years.

Nathan Broadhead is looking unlikely for the game as the club are expected to make another late call on his fitness after suffering a muscle injury.