On Monday the Lads and fans alike take the short trip to the Riverside for the first time since 2017 (owing to our four year League One road show), as Wearside takes on Teesside’s smoggy Middlesbrough.
And of course the Sky cameras are back in town on us for the fifth time this season (a sixth already confirmed for the trip to Blackburn next month), proving we are still massive, and a big draw for live broadcast. It’s Dave Stewart v Chris Rea, it’s Andy Dawson v Bob Mortimer, it’s Tony Mowbray v Tony Mowbray? All aboard the Monday night lights.
Boro currently sit 20th in the table after a slow start to the season, with their sole win coming in a 2-1 victory at home to Swansea City. This is their sixth season in the Championship, and last season looked promising for a promotion push, with an excellent FA Cup run that included wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, before going out to the European champions Chelsea. But that run seemed to have also kicked the momentum out of their league season, as they relinquished their play off spot with just three games to go.
Chris Wilder has brought in strikers Marcus Forss and Matthew Hoppe for around £6m combined, as well as spending £2.34m on Brighton centre back Matt Clarke.
Having been a bit of a loan whore Forss will be hoping to settle at Boro as both his spells at Brentford and Hull have been far from prolific, with the Finnish forward failing to finish regularly. On the departures front Boro have cashed in on attacking midfielder Marcus Tavernier, going to Premier League Bournemouth for £10.71m, and right back Djed Spence to Tottenham for £13.23m. These are huge losses for the home side, particularly as their quality has not been replaced during the summer window. Boro are still considering their options in the free agent market.
Unsurprisingly Wilder plays a 3-5-2 formation, a style that earned him much praise with his Sheffield United team in the Premier League, with the overlapping centre backs. However it’s unlikely former Lads man Paddy McNair has the legs to play that role, albeit it’s fair to say his strengths are more in going forward than defensively. Riley McGree and Fulham loanee Rodrigo Muniz led the line last time out at Watford, with forward Chuba Akpom likely to not be fit prior to the international break, following his knee injury at home to Sheffield United last month.
Wilder will be nervously waiting on the fitness of defender Darragh Lenihan and captain Jonny Howson , who were both forced off at Watford on Tuesday night, where they lost late on. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen is out injured, so the inexperienced Ben Roberts will be between the sticks, someone the Lads should look to put under pressure. Matt Crooks is my player to watch, a canny operator in midfield with an eye for goal, who will be able supported by defensive midfielder Alex Mowatt who has come in to ease West Brom’s pay roll for a season.
For the lads Mowbray has four new bairns to consider as his squad is relatively fit accepting the medium term absence of defenders Dan Ballard and Niall Huggins. Abdullah Ba may well be the give and go holding midfielder that could replace Corry Evans as he tires (70 minutes, set your watch by it), so hopefully he’ll get up to speed quickly. The talk is (I wanna be Edouard) Michut has the first touch and skill of someone expected of PSG stock, however he will need to be nurtured into working hard off the ball, as he adapts to the rigours of EFL Championship life. But work rate is something that can be trained, and who better than our man Tony to inspire the handsome Frenchman to an element of the game that defined the head coach’s playing career himself.
Amad Diallo will bolster options up front, though is in a slightly different ilk to Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms, being only 5’9″ and likely to be more of a pacey winger or wide forward. Having played at Manchester United and Rangers, the young Ivorian should be used to fans with big expectations, and having had a taste of international football and playing in Europe, should be beyond his 20 years.
To a man the Lads were outstanding on Wednesday night as they brushed past an unbeaten Rotherham side that sued to bully the Lads in League One. Not only the strikers, but the form of Jack Clarke is very exciting, along with the high levels that Lyndon Gooch is finally churning out. It’s no surprise that giving Goochy one position and allowing him a consistent run in the side has appeared to eradicate his random dips in form, with the American thriving at the higher level of the Championship.
The debate about Luke O’Nien’s position can also be put to bed as he has shown he is excelling at right centre back? centre half? centre third? Honourable mentions have to go to Dennis Cirkin and Danny Batth, who have been nothing short of immense.
It’s fair to say this is more Boro’s derby as, well, they have no one else (other than maybe Pools or Darlo), so they will be bang up for this. Mowbray has a great record returning to his old club and he’ll want to keep that going as the Lads seek to regain their place in the top six. If the Lads can get the first goal that will put the injury hit home side under immense pressure given their slow start to the season.
There’s goals in this Sunderland side, and with only conceding one in the last three I’m backing the Lads to drift out of the smog with all three points. Ha’way the Lads!