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Sunderland AFC v middlesbrough (h)...

Like most or our fans the wrong side of sixty I’ve always considered the Boro game to be a derby and in the absence of the big one, I think the rest of us are more keyed up than usual about this afternoon’s clash.

The news this week has certainly been gloomy with the sudden departure of Kaboul and the apparent banning of Kone from the stadium, or is it a back injury? There are so many rumours flying around about these two that it’s hard to know what’s really been going on but in Kaboul’s case for sure and in Kone’s most probably we won’t see them playing for us again. We know that Seb is out for ages but the injuries to Catts and Kirchhoff don’t seem to be getting better in a hurry while Borini is also looking doubtful for today. At least Leadbitter is also out injured for them as I could see him scoring against us. With Hull and Burnley having very good starts we need to get a few points in the bag asap to avoid a gulf building up between us and the predicted relegation candidates. There’ll be a great atmosphere in the SoL today and I hope this will be replicated in the Old Red Lion, where I’ll be watching the game along with a gang of the faithful. There were some positives in last Saturday’s defeat with both Gooch and Januzaj looking more than handy and we scored the best goal of the game. I think it’ll be a battle but I’ve the feeling we’ll win and my match prediction is 2-1.

It’d been a bit difficult getting to the Old Red Lion with both tube lines closed for maintenance but when I got there, it was chock full of Norwich fans watching their match on the big screen. I’d been led to believe our match would be on and the only alternative was to watch it on a small screen with no sound. I didn’t fancy that at all so I left and ran to catch a bus back to Euston so I could watch it in the Euston Flyer, a bar many of you will know. They were watching the Norwich game there too but after a bit of negotiation, they put our game on and several grumbling Canary fans were relocated to a corner area. A barmaid said Sunderland were lucky for them. Almost immediately nine Sunderland fans came in to keep me company. It was 1.20 by the time I got settled and could take in the team news. Djilobodji was making his debut alongside O’Shea at the heart of our defence while Januzaj was starting and Watmore was there instead of Borini. For Boro I only recognized Guzan and Downing.

In the second minute there was a clash of heads between Negredo and Djilobodji with the former coming off worse. Djilo hardly flinched. Subsequent tackles from both sides made it clear this game wasn’t going to be one for the feint-hearted. In the ninth minute we produced a good chance when a Gooch cross from the left was just too far ahead of Januzaj in the box. Soon afterwards we won the first corner, which was taken short and came to nothing. We’d dominated the game so far but then Boro took a shock lead when Stuani was allowed space to run towards our box before unleashing a great drive into the top left corner. It was a much more even game after that though Boro were looking composed. Januzaj looked a very handy asset as he danced down the wing and along their goal-line on several occasions. He was fouled by Clayton, who got the game’s first yellow card, but the free-kick was wasted. We were starting to build some attacking momentum and Defoe had the ball in the net but it was ruled offside. Just after the half-hour Watmore and Defoe combined well but the latter’s final pass was poor, going straight to Guzan while Watmore was running into a great scoring position. Boro then won their first corner but we cleared it no bother, though O’Shea needed a bit of treatment and was then subbed by Pienaar. As half-time approached Boro were looking strong upfront and with seconds to go they got their second, a well-created effort that culminated with Negredo passing across the box for Stuani to slot home his second from close-range. I’d just been hoping that we could make it to the break without conceding again but now the picture looked bleak indeed. The boos from the home crowd showed how many of them felt. We’d created several good scoring chances but our final passes had been poor and they’d gone begging.

When we kicked off again Lens was on for McNair, which was a real surprise as I never thought we’d see him in our shirt again. Fair dues to him though, as he almost immediately put a great ball through to Defoe but it was blocked at the last second. A few more of them and we might have a chance of getting something from the game after all. There was certainly a spring in our step in the opening stages and we needed to get a goal quickly. Gooch made a great run ten minutes in and though it came to nothing, it roused the spirits. Boro still looked stylish when they came forward. Guzan was forced into a great save on the hour as we piled on the pressure. Next thing Lens had a good shot that was turned out for a corner and the crowd was roaring. We pummelled their goal for the next few minutes and it seemed a goal had to come soon. With twenty minutes on the clock Vito saved well at the feet of Negredo and I felt we might just nick a draw. A minute later we pulled one back and it was all about PVA who started the move with a spirited run down the left and then followed up Watmore’s effort that Guzan had parried by lamming it into the net. We had Boro on the rack and Guzan looked like he was having kittens. With ten minutes to go we replaced Watmore, who’d put in a solid shift, with Asoro, who looked like he had a lot of flair in the pre-season games. We’d gone off the boil and Boro were coming forward a lot more as the clock ticked away all too quickly. There were three added minutes but we didn’t create any further chances and it ended 1-2 so despite a much better second-half display, we couldn’t make up for conceding two good goals in the first period.

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