Sunderland fan Dan Neil on the goal that made a dream come true at the Stadium of Light

By James Hunter

Sunderland fan Dan Neil says scoring at the Stadium of Light was a dream come true.

The homegrown midfielder has broken into the first team this season and made a huge impact - and at the weekend he chalked up another milestone when he scored his first senior goal in Sunderland's 2-1 win against Accrington Stanley, which sent the Black Cats two points clear at the top of League One.

The 19-year-old latched onto Dennis Cirkin's headed pass on the edge of the penalty area, shifted the ball onto his less-favoured left foot, and fired past James Trafford to score the opening goal after a quarter of an hour.

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South Shields-born Neil's family was at the game to share the moment, and when the goal went in he raced to celebrate in front of the South East Corner where he used to sit as a boy.

"It's funny because I sat in the corner that I ran to where I scored my first goal," said Neil.

"It [scoring his first goal] is something I've dreamed of for a long time and I've had to wait a little bit but I'm so glad that went in today and it wasn't a bad one for my first goal.

"I would have taken anything but to score with my weaker left foot puts a cherry on top of the cake.

" I think a lot of people in the squad know that my shooting is something I need to work on.

"Scoring my first goal like that I was a bit shocked. Just the feeling and adrenaline rush of scoring in front of 30,000 people is something I've dreamed of doing.

"I was just shocked it went in, especially with my left peg.

"My mum, dad and sister were sat together. My nana, her friend and then my dad's side of the family, my grandma, auntie, uncle, so quite a few were there.

"They are at every home game, and then my mum and dad go to away games so I'm glad I scored in front of all of them."

Neil was on the fringes of the first team last summer but was restricted to a handful of appearances in the EFL Trophy en route to the final, and a couple of outings as a substitute in the league in March.

However he stood out in Sunderland's pre-season under Lee Johnson this summer, both in midfield and as a stand-in left-back, and has carried that form into the campaign after being handed his chance.

But the self-effacing teenager is not in any danger of allowing his rapid rise to go to his head.

He said: "I've got a strong family and friends who keep my feet on the ground. All the lads in the changing room keep my feet on the ground.

"It is hard because when you're reading stuff and they are talking about you and playing for your boyhood club, scoring your first goal, it is tough.

"But I have a lot of people around me who will keep my feet on the floor and I just keeping looking forward to the next game to be honest.

"I prefer it when the games are Saturday, Tuesday because you don't get a lot of time to think.

"I'm looking forward to these next few months."

Neil began the season operating at left-back before Cirkin arrived from Spurs, andimmediately he was shifted into his natural midfield role to fill the gap alongside Luke O'Nien left by Corry Evans when the Northern Ireland international picked up a hamstring problem.

And it was a sign of the faith that Johnson has in him that he left the Neil-O'Nien partnership intact against Accrington, even though Evans had recovered from his injury.

Neil said: "I think all three midfielders are different and I think Luke is better at the dirty side than me, maybe I'm a bit more composed and forward thinking than Luke.

"I think we complement each other really well in midfield and even when Corry plays he's similar to Luke and is a calming influence. He's happy to sit and orchestrate and sit a bit deeper.

"We complement each other really well and I think the relationship between all three of us has been really good, hence the results we've been picking up."

The competition for places is fierce, which is a sign of the strength of Sunderland's squad.

Neil said: "The gaffer made a point of saying 'look at the second XI we've got' and the quality in depth is really good this year.

"It is only going to stand us in good stead for the rest of the season because there are going to be injuries and suspensions, loss of form. That is when the other quality players in the team will come in.

"My job personally is to make sure that shirt is mine and to keep giving my all in training and, when it comes to a game, to show what I can do."


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