HE is regularly praised for his abilities on the ball, but Mike Dodds feels Sunderland midfielder Dan Neil deserves more credit for the way in which he has developed his tactical understanding of the game.

Neil was one of the Black Cats’ standout players as they claimed a creditable goalless draw at Leeds United on Tuesday night, and his performances over the season as a whole have seen him establish himself as one of the most exciting youngsters in the Championship.

The Wearsider only turned 22 in December, yet he already boasts 148 senior appearances and is the subject of increasingly strong speculation linking him with a number of Premier League clubs.

His ability with the ball at his feet has been apparent ever since he broke into the first-team ranks, and his energy and dynamism make him an ideal box-to-box midfielder.

This season, though, he has also added an improved tactical awareness to his skillset, with Dodds identifying him as one of his key on-field leaders thanks to his ability to take instructions on board and carry them out to the letter.

“Tactically, Dan Neil is unbelievable,” said Sunderland’s interim head coach, ahead of Saturday’s trip to West Brom. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for that.


“I ask him to execute something, and he’s almost like my voice on the pitch in terms of the tactical stuff. I’ve got nothing but praise for Dan.”

Remarkably, given his age, Neil is one of the elder statesmen of the Sunderland squad, with Tuesday’s line-up at Elland Road once again featuring a host of youngsters.

Sixteen-year-old Chris Rigg lined up on the right of midfield, with 18-year-old Jobe Bellingham leading the line as the central striker, with Dodds keen to highlight the duo’s youthfulness given the way in which they have evolved into first-team regulars this season.

“Riggy is a first-year scholar and I’ve just played him at Elland Road,” said the Sunderland boss. “You’ve got Jobe, who played alongside him, who is a second-year scholar.

“We’ve got two youth-team players on the pitch. They execute the gameplan to a tee and do exactly what you ask. If we can refine both of them, and in particular Riggy, then we’ve got two wonderful players on our hands.”