Alex Neil has previewed Saturday’s Sky Bet League One Play-Off final at Wembley Stadium, as Sunderland and Wycombe Wanderers face off with a place in the Championship at stake within as little as 90 minutes.
The Lads are now less than 24 hours away from the weekend showdown, and Neil insists the preparation for the final has been just the same as for any other matchday under his reign.
“We’ve been preparing for the final just as we have done with any other game, with a normal working week,” the Head Coach says.
“We’ve become used to playing in that environment in front of huge crowds, like against Sheffield Wednesday, and the travel is no different than it would be to a normal away game.
“But of course, what’s riding on the match – there is naturally far more at stake. But it shouldn’t affect how we prepare, we’re focused on going out there to win the game.”
Neil denies that previous Play-Off results are at all a factor heading into Saturday afternoon, and explains his belief that the prime period to motivate the team is on the cusp of kick-off in the dressing room.
“We haven’t discussed Play-Off history because I don’t think it’s appropriate – this is a different group of players.
“The motivational stuff from me is when they’ve come in after their warm-up on matchday, to then speak to them in regards to how crucial the game is, what it means, and how our mindset has to be going out there to play the match.
“We make sure we have the right levels of aggression and enthusiasm for the match, but equally you have to have cool heads, and make key decisions at the right times.”
With well in excess of 40,000 Sunderland fans expected inside Wembley and many thousands more supporting from back in the North East and beyond, the anticipation is palpable.
But the Head Coach knows the ultimate task at hand against Gareth Ainsworth’s side – a second-tier club as recently as 12 months ago – and describes the atmosphere as ‘relaxed as well as focused’.
“In whose minds are we favourites? If people think we’re favourites, they can think what they want – that’s fine. I spoke about the simple fact the other day that Wycombe were in the Championship last year.
“That’s not playing us down by any means, but I’ve heard in press conferences that the pressure and expectation is on us – that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
“We know the threat that Wycombe pose, we know it’ll be a tough game, and we’re relaxed as well as focused. We’ve done our work and will continue to, and we’ll be ready for Saturday.”