Sunderland were beaten 1-0 away at Middlesbrough in a game where our players did everything but rise to the occasion. It’s never been more apparent that our team is without a leader, without direction, and without a hope of staying in the Premier League. We will be relegated on Saturday.
Sunderland were unchanged from their 2-2 victory over West Ham; a much-improved performance albeit without the all-important three points. Khazri thankfully retained his place, after looking so impressive against the Hammers.
The match started to a wild atmosphere, helped in part by the minute’s applause for Ugo Ehiogu, who sadly passed away last week.
It’s often debated whether Sunderland v Middlesbrough is actually a North East derby, but Rob Nichols from the brilliant ‘Boro fanzine 'Fly Me To The Moon' sums it up best: “It feels like it matters a little bit more than a regular match, which is enough for me.”
Sunderland forced the first chance of the match, after a lovely lofted ball from NDong found Defoe. Jermain volleyed it first time from the edge of the area but it was gathered well by Brad Guzan. Defoe did well to take that first time. Of course, Boro had to one-up us.
GOAL – Middlesbrough – De Roon – 9 mins
A pin-point long ball from Boro carved the Sunderland defence open. It was a simple ball over the top, but met with a terrific run to punish O’Shea and Jones, who stopped concentrating. It was taken down on the chest of De Roon, who poked the ball between the legs of Pickford and into the net. 1-0 to Boro.
The home side were dominant from this point on, growing in confidence while Sunderland cowered away. We began to struggle in possession, giving the ball away needlessly, which prompted stirs and groans from the bewildered travelling support.
We were making ‘Boro, a really terrible football team, look excellent. Meanwhile they made us look even worse than usual. 30 minutes passed and we’d yet to find a foothold in the game, Khazri and NDong our most creative outlets, with the latter chasing down every ball and working hard. A long-range strike from NDong was palmed away by Guzan, with the follow-up cross headed over by Jones, for probably our best chance of the first half.
Darron Gibson was being played in a defensive midfield role, which was about as successful as a Newcastle United tax return: not very. In contrast, however, Newcastle being investigated by HMRC just 2 days after securing promotion is hilarious, while Darron Gibson’s performances for Sunderland have been nothing short of excruciating.
As the game approached half-time, Boro simply needed to keep hold of the ball. Sunderland were growing impatient and with Mike Dean wanting to get his face on the match highlights, he was blowing for fouls at every point of contact. After 2 minutes of added time, the whistle finally blew to put an end to an agonisingly bad half of football for Sunderland.
We began the second half by winning a free kick on the edge of the box. Khazri curled it up and over the wall, but Guzan made a solid stop to keep it out of the goal. It was actually nice to see us hit the target from a set piece — probably an indication that Khazri should be taking them all.
Both teams definitely benefitted from the 15-minute break, with an extra element of energy to the game. Sunderland had a penalty shout denied after Guzan jumped on top of Anichebe to punch the ball away. It looked like it could have been given, but Mike Dean wasn’t interested.
We actually started to test Boro a little bit, with a great ball into the centre from Anichebe. Defoe met it with his back to goal, but mis-controlled it and the chance was wasted. An in-form Defoe might have turned and shot first time, but this is a Defoe who hasn’t scored for 8 games, which is a lifetime by his standards.
Both sets of fans were making the most of the occasion, as the game began to heat up even further. NDong was so engulfed by the pace of the game that he two-footed Mike Dean after the tosspot referee got in the way of the ball. That’s what I call opportunism.
We started creating chances more freely, but were unable to play a measured final pass. When we did manage one, a lovely cross into the box by Cattermole, it wasn’t synchronised with our phases of attack, which left the Stockton-born midfielder scratching his head at the lack of Sunderland players in the box.
Gibson made way for Borini, while Khazri was taken off for Januzaj after 76 minutes. Fabio has traditionally been a big-game player, but you wouldn’t fancy Januzaj in an away match down Boro when we’re already trailing 1-0. Having said that, both were attacking substitutions and can’t really be criticised.
Sunderland were tired and Boro began to take advantage, hanging onto the ball and passing lazily, but it was enough to keep us at arms length. When they did venture forward, Denayer was the one breaking up attacks. I’m a fan of Denayer and would love to take him on permanently, but there’s no way it would happen.
Sunderland won a free kick on the halfway line and sent it long into the box. O’Shea headed it on cleverly but nobody was there to turn it in. It was the type of chance that we wasted every time we went forward — a combination of bad luck, poor chemistry, and zero communication.
The full-time whistle blew and Boro won 1-0. Did they deserve it? Probably not, but a bit more than we did. Two shit teams that are going down.
Final Score: Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland
ALS Man of the Match: The travelling fans
By Chris Thompson
ALS T Shirts click here