Manager Alex Neil labelled this afternoon’s 2-0 win over Sunderland as professional, and a job well done, as PNE ensured they went into the international break with three points.
Second half headers from Sean Maguire and Callum Robinson secured the victory for Alex Neil’s side who closed to gap on the top six to two points, and the gaffer spoke of the importance of taking maximum points at the Stadium of Light this afternoon.
“We needed to win this game,” stated Alex in his post-match interview with iFollow PNE.
“We looked at the other fixtures of the teams around us and we knew this was a good opportunity to catch up some ground. After the disappointment of Fulham it was always important to bounce back. With the international break coming up we didn’t want to go into it on the back of a loss.
“The one thing I will say is that the players deserve a lot of credit because the conditions weren’t easy today. I know it was snowing and you could see the wind but when you’re in it, it was bitterly cold for a start, which means muscles are tightening up all of the time and equally the wind and the snow made it difficult to play in, so the players deserve a lot of credit with how they passed the ball in spells of the game.
“The only disappointment for us is that we didn’t put the game to bed. We had five or six opportunities to score five, however, what I will say is that coming here, it was a professional job and we got the three points.
“When they went down to ten men, we should have kept the ball better. We had countless counter attacking opportunities to put the game to bed but we didn’t take them, but I don’t want to take the shine off it as any three points at this level is good.
"We know there’s bits we need to improve on, but we came here, got the job done, got the three points. We can enjoy the break, and then we can get prepared and ready for the run in.”
The first half wasn't straight forward, with North End not quite able to find a way through the Black Cats' defence in the first half, but a key change enforced by the manager at the interval saw Callum Robinson pushed up further forward in expense of Sean Maguire, who dropped back for the second half.
The change proved dividends with both players getting on the score sheet, and the manager was pleased with the flexibility of his front four this afternoon.
He continued “With Sean up front in the middle, they were quite happy to stay in their shape with Sean running down the sides but when we put Callum down the side, he almost played like a false nine and we’ve done that on quite a few occasions and it worked really well. That tactical change certainly helped us get the three points,
“Sometimes you can over analyse when you win and be a bit picky, but I think what we’ve got to do is understand what we’ve got to do to get to where we want to get to and we’re quite happy to win the game.”
Alex made three changes from Saturday’s defeat to Fulham, with a notable inclusion in-between the sticks with Chris Maxwell starting ahead of Declan Rudd, whose wife went into labour on Friday, and the manager was pleased with Maxwell’s contribution in the game.
“He’s managed a clean sheet, and his distribution was good in the main in testing conditions. Maxi’s been frustrated that he’s not been playing but Declan has come in and done relatively well and obviously Declan’s not here as he’s probably had his baby by now, his wife was in labour overnight which is why he wasn’t with us today.”
North End head into the international break on the back of the win, and Alex explained to iFollowPNE how they’ll use the break ahead of the remaining eight games of the season.
He continued: “We’ll use it for a bit of a rest to start off with - and then we’ll get the players in for a few days and put some hard work in their legs and pick up some things we can improve on.
“We’re getting more and more players away on International duty as we get which is a recognition of the work we are doing which is great. We’ll give them next week off, and then in and get ready for the Sheffield Wednesday game."
Watch the full interview with Alex on iFollow PNE now by clicking on the video above.