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Sunderland AFC v middlesbrough (away)...
match report

Sunderland lost 1-0 away at Middlesbrough in the plastic derby. An early goal from 18-year-old Marcus Tavernier was enough to see off Sunderland, who battled in the first half to level the game but ran out of steam early in the second period. Different managers, same old Sunderland. Where do we go from here?

Another manager binned, but few could excuse Simon Grayson for his disastrous spell on Wearside. ‘Stability’ is the word often used as a stick to beat Sunderland with, but Grayson did very little to show that his side was a work in progress or even building towards an eventual goal. By the end of October, he still didn’t know what his best side was or the best way to play, and that was why the club was justified in cutting ties. They should have done the same with David Moyes a year earlier.

Grayson’s replacement, Robbie Stockdale, would be joined by Billy McKinlay in this interim period. It’s a huge opportunity for Stockdale to prove himself, given how long he has been a member of the backroom staff. Caretaker managers are often disposed of completely after they run their course, and so Stockdale may have to use this opportunity to put himself in the shop window — what better way to do it than with a Sunderland win away from home in a plastic derby match?

Whatever his intentions, the starting XI was a strange one.

Jones, Wilson, O’Shea, Oviedo
NDong, Cattermole, Gibson, McNair
McGeady, Grabban

I fear I may have died and gone to midfield hell. It turned out that the 4-man midfield was a diamond, with NDong on the right and McNair on the left; Catts and Gibbo carrying the water. McGeady would be given a free role, which I think is the right way to go, and Grabban is the best front man at the club by far. With Watmore and Kone completely omitted from the squad entirely. One can only assume that Watmore is injured, but with Kone, who cares?

Sunderland forced a brilliant chance in the third minute, with NDong firing a lightning-quick shot at goal from 25 yards out. The shot was palmed out by the Boro keeper, Randolph, who had the sun in his eyes. Grabban was the first man to follow up the shot, but Randolph pulled off a stunning save with his feet to deny a certain goal. Our wasted chance was punished almost instantly.

Stewart Downing found the intelligent run of Braithwaite with a reverse pass, and Braithwaite was efficient in pulling the ball back into the path of young Tavernier, who converted without issue to make it 1-0 to Boro. Both O’Shea and Billy Jones lost their man in the build up, and while Boro’s attack was clever, it shouldn’t have bamboozled our defence given how much experience we have in it.

NDong was the Sunderland player who looked to be running the show, and his defiant drive towards goal applied some much-needed pressure. Unsatisfied with his sight at goal, he squared the ball into the path of Lee Cattermole, who fired at goal from around 22 yards. Randolph again was equal to the shot, turning it round the post for a corner. The Boro keeper was in fine form, pulling off a stunning save to deny Billy Jones from close range, but the flag was raised for offside nonetheless.

Jones would go off injured after half an hour after colliding with Darron Gibson; Gibson finally endearing himself to Sunderland supporters in the process. Jones was replaced by Matthews, who was immediately called into action to clear a Middlesbrough cross.

Sunderland were almost exclusively attacking down the right-hand side, with NDong always wanting to be on the ball. McNair, playing on the left, was regularly advancing up the pitch, lurking in the box with Grabban to get on the end of an NDong cross which often never came. McNair does offer us that height in the box, but we weren’t playing that sort of game, with Didier being forced onto his left foot by the Boro defenders to prevent that delivery.

The first half was pretty even, in truth, and Boro weren’t seeing as much of the ball as I’d expected before the game. Sunderland were playing with urgency, though the same could be said under Simon Grayson. Equally, we conceded a stupid goal and didn’t take clear-cut chances, so not a lot had changed on that front. After 45 minutes we’d had more shots at goal, shots on targets, and corners than Boro. We’d also conceded more goals, however, which is the only that thing matters.

Sunderland started the second half with the majority share of possession, but we did little to threaten the home side in the final third. NDong took a slip and it was a while before he got back to his feet; when he did, he looked everything but mobile, and took about 3 minutes to get back into the game. Eventually he swallowed his pride and dropped to the floor signalling to the bench. A huge blow for Sunderland to lose their best player, but a chance for Honeyman to come in and change the game.

Boro came extremely close to scoring after a slip from Oviedo allowed Cyrus Christie to slip a ball across towards Braithwaite, who had already registered an assist in the game. Braithwaite’s powerful strike was blocked by Ruitter, but the ball flew up into the air with several attacking players charging. To our relief, Ruitter collected the ball before any contact could be made, and the full away end breathed a collective sigh of relief.

By the 65th minute, Darron Gibson was gasping to such an extent that he began turning his back on the ball so nobody would pass to him. Not sure I’ve ever seen that happen on a football pitch before, except maybe on Renford Rejects or in Sunday League. Gibson is a renegade in that way; a throwback. If this was the 70s, Gibson would be the biggest bucker of all.

Marc Wilson was booked for conceding a foul right on the edge of the box after allowing the ball to go past him. The free kick was in a threatening position, and while Downing did manage to curl the ball around the wall, Ruitter read it well to prevent Boro’s second goal. I was sure that Steele would be starting today given his local ties in a derby match, a good performance in a derby could give Jason that all-important confidence boost, but Ruitter has been solid in his place.

Jonny Williams came on McNair, and set up a massive chance for Sunderland on 80 minutes. After sliding the ball out to Oviedo on the left-hand side, the ball was whipped into the path of McGeady, whose strike should have hit the target but, typically, wasn’t even close. He looked incredibly frustrated with his poor effort; the sentiment echoed by the travelling Sunderland fans.

Neither team will come out of this game covered in glory, with Boro only slightly less incompetent that Sunderland. They did manage to score a goal though, aided by our horrendous defending, and their fans can at least celebrate a victory in the plastic derby. These games are always a bit shite, aren’t they? In the future we should just forfeit a Tees-Wear derby 1-0 and save everyone the bother. Imagine what you could have been doing with your Sunday — you could have even been enjoying yourself.

Final Score: Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland

ALS MOTM: Didier NDong

By Chris Thompson

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