BELIEF in himself and no fear of failing as Sunderland manager. That’s been the mantra for Alex Neil ever since he took over at the Stadium of Light on his way to succeeding in getting the club promoted from League One.

It’s been nothing short of a remarkable job performed by the Scotsman since taking the reins in February. A 16 match unbeaten run sent Sunderland back to the second tier of English football ending things with their 2-0 win over Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley. Where managers have had years to put things right, it took him 18 games to get the club out of League One.

Managers have come and fallen victim on Wearside but Neil’s way of simplifying the task of winning games and getting the best out of his players has been a big part his success. From throwing young goalkeeper Anthony Patterson between the sticks to handing Elliot Embleton a place in the starting line-up at Wembley, he’s struck a chord with the players and he was always confident that he’d be able to do that.

“I think you’ve always got belief” Neil said. “When you take the job, you need to believe you can carry it through because the last thing I wanted to do was drop into League One and fail or not do as well.

“Bear in mind that I’ve taken over a club that wasn’t down the bottom end of the table. When you take clubs that are high up the table, how much scope have you actually got? You’ve really got to get to the play-offs, or get automatic, which at that stage was looking really difficult.

“It’s quite easy not to do well, if that makes any sense. It would have been easier for me to say, ‘I’ll pass this one because I’ll wait for an easier job further down the line’. But I was waiting for something that was really going to intrigue me and test me, and I’ve never been scared of failing. I’ve never been scared of putting myself out there and thinking that I can get it done.”

During Sunderland’s stint in League One, Jack Ross, Phil Parkinson and Lee Johnson have all tried to mount promotion pushes back to the second tier but all have been sacked during their reigns.

Johnson often spoke about the shirt being a heavy one to wear with the level of expectation at the club far greater than any of side in the third tier. Four years has felt like a long overdue stint in League One which only adds to the pressure but it’s all been taken in Neil’s stride as he continually blocked out outside noise of the club’s baggage and history.

Neil continued: “This was the biggest test of all really because of the size of the club, the expectation of the club and not only that, but how many people have struggled before me?

“To take that, and to make it work is great, but you need a slice of fortune as well. You do need fortune, but I think fortune in any sport comes to the people that practice the most and do the work behind the scenes and put the hard yards in. We work extremely hard, and that’s probably why I’m so sombre, because I’m so confident because of how hard we work behind the scenes.

“I can’t do any more to give the lads what they need to make them perform, and credit to them. They’ve been brilliant.”