Former Preston North End manager is looking to make his Championship return with Sunderland

Former Preston North End boss Alex Neil will seek to regain his Championship manager status this weekend as Sunderland meet Wycombe Wanderers in the League One play-off final.

By Dave Seddon
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 1:47 pm

Neil, who had three years and nine months in charge at PNE, has rejuvenated the Black Cats since taking the Stadium of Light hotseat in February, losing just one of his 17 games in charge.

After negotiating a tough two-legged semi-final with Sheffield Wednesday, Neil takes his side to Wembley on Saturday hoping to end their four-year stay in the third tier.

Standing in his way will be Gareth Ainsworth who like Neil has strong North End links. Wycombe boss Ainsworth had three spells as a player with PNE and to this day is fondly remembered.

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Four times Ainsworth and Neil were opposition on the touchline when Neil was PNE manager.

North End won 5-1 at Wycombe in the FA Cup in January 2018, then came three meetings last season.

There was a 2-2 draw at Deepdale in the league before Wycombe beat PNE 4-1 in the FA Cup in January last year.

Gareth Ainsworth and Alex Neil on the touchline during Preston North End's Championship clash with Wycombe Wanderers in March 2021

Two months later the Chairboys won 1-0 at Adams Park in the league, that game coming in Neil’s last week in the Preston job.

Neil had 11 months out of the game between being dismissed by North End and taking the Sunderland job, in between being touted for a handful of managerial vacancies.

The Wearsiders were creaking when the Scotsman took the job, having won only once in seven games in the run-up to his appointment.

Sunderland drew their first match under Neil, lost the second, but a 3-0 win at Wigan kick-started the momentum which carried them into the play-offs.

On the Wembley pitch, there will be a former North End player operating at the heart of Sunderland’s defence.

Bailey Wright has been a regular under Neil and in the second-leg at Sheffield Wednesday put in a man of the match performance.

The Australian left PNE in January 2017 to sign for Bristol City, his departure coming during Simon Grayson’s time in charge.

After spending three years with the Robins, Wright moved to Sunderland on loan in January 2020 before making the move permanent in June that year.