The departure of Younes Kaboul and uncertainty around Lamine Kone meant David Moyes was forced into two changes in central defence. There was a debut for Papy Djilobodji and a return to the backline for John O'Shea, while Donald Love and Patrick van Aanholt retained their full back spots. Vito Mannone started in goal.
In the holding midfield roles there was a first start for Paddy McNair who'd be looking to bounce back from his own goal at the Etihad stadium last week. The Northern Irish international would be partnered by Jack Rodwell with Lynden Gooch just ahead of the pair.
Out wide there was another player making their first start, as Adnan Januzaj started on the right flank. Duncan Watmore would be looking to cause problems on the left and Jermain Defoe started up front.
The visitors made only three changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Stoke on the opening weekend. Goalkeeper Victor Valdes missed out and was replaced by Brad Guzan, Albert Adomah was dropped for Cristhian Stuani and in the middle, Adam Forshaw replaced the injured Marten de Roon. That mean't a Boro defence mostly made up of players who earned them promotion as Ben Gibson, George Friend and Emilio Nsue all started the game. They were joined by summer signing Antonio Barragan.
Along with Stuani and Forshaw, Boro continued with players from last season in their midfield. Adam Clayton occupied a deeper role with Forshaw, while Gaston Ramirez played in the number 10 position. Former Sunderland loanee Stewart Downing started in his favoured left wing position and he'd be looking to provide service to Alvaro Negrado, Middlesbrough's lone striker.
I'm going to try and start positively. From an attacking point of view, there was a good fluidity to Sunderland's play. Before half time and when in possession, you could tell that Lynden Gooch and Duncan Watmore had played together in the development squad as they both shifted between the wide and central areas. The fluidity allowed Watmore to try and do what he's best at and run at defenders. It meant Gooch was able to try and use his control and passing ability to fashion opportunities. Inexperience may have mean't they weren't able to take control of things as much as fans would have liked, but there was a glimmer of something decent there.
John O'Shea's injury saw the introduction of Stephen Pienaar with Jack Rodwell dropping into central defence. Such a big turn around was always going to be disruption but Pienaar's presence, experience and quality on the ball did help Sunderland grow back into the game, especially in the second half. As for Rodwell, he looked ok at centre half but wasn't really tested in the second period, as Middlesbrough started to sit deeper.
Second half substitute Jeremain Lens also looked lively when he came on at half time. Looking like he'd had a summer of bulking up, he chased down everything, flew into a couple of early challenges and looked a genuine threat when in possession. Lens is a player who is much more comfortable in the number 10 role than he is out on the wing, hopefully we'll see him start there soon and see a similar amount of application.
Square Pegs In Round Holes
You can have a game plan delightfully worked out but if you've got too many players out of position, it's always going to be a difficult task. Lynden Gooch, for all his effort, didn't look as assured when dropped into the middle of midfield, in the second half, and having to rely on Jack Rodwell to fill in at centre half showed just how light The Lads are on numbers.
There are too many players who are comfortably in the team at present purely because there is no one else. I doubt David Moyes wants to rely on Donald Love as much as he has to right now but we don't have anyone else to currently call upon. Love gave the ball away on three occassions, all in central areas where a better team would have punished Sunderland. Call it lack of quality or lack of experience, either way, it was a tough afternoon for him.
It's clear that for Sunderland to control games they need to get their leaders back to full fitness and also make sure that the ones they're signing are capable of taking charge.
Middlesbrough Were Stronger In The Middle
This was always going to be a scrappy game and he had to hope we could match Middlesbrough's spirit. Their midfield may be lacking quality (not that ours isn't at the moment) but their effort and desire was enough for them to get the upper hand. The away side made almost double the amount of tackles Sunderland did with 30 to 16. It gets even more damning for The Black Cats when you look at who made those with Clayton making 7 and Forshaw making 4. Compare that to Paddy McNair's two, Lynden Gooch's two, Jack Rodwell's one and Steven Pienaar's two. It's obvious where the problems lie at present and you just know that one of Lee Cattermole or Jan Kirchhoff would have made a huge difference.
Credit also has to go to Boro for how well they defended their final third. Brad Guzan didn't have to make a single save in the first half and only made four in the second. You can't blame them for sitting back and looking to counter when 2-0 up, especially with the ability possessed by Ramirez and vision of Downing. In all honestly, they were slightly reminiscent of how Sunderland played last season, at times.
With regards to the goals, they were both preventable despite showing quality. Stuani's first was an absolute stunner, and will be in contention for goal of the season, but Lynden Gooch was poor in his chance to win a 50/50 against Nsue and that gave Stuani the room to run at the defence. For the second, Sunderland were totally disorganised. Djilobodji got dragged out in the same way John Stones did against The Lads last week and failed to track Stuani, Rodwell was absolutely no where near Negredo when the ball got played through and McNair was caught ball watching. Pienaar had gone to try and challenge Ramirez so you'd expect McNair to make the follow up challenge on Forshaw instead of leaving it to Djilobodji. A good move from a Boro point of view but terrible from Sunderland.
Dangerous Going Forward But Not Effective Enough
As I just mentioned, Brad Guzan was not tested enough by Sunderland. Adnan Januzaj looked exciting and dangerous on the ball, getting into some good positions, but his final ball was lacking. There were two good examples in the first half, one cross early on which was far too close to the goalkeeper and one later on when he pulled it back to the penalty spot despite there being no red and white shirts around. You could argue, and you'd be right, that there should be someone arriving in that position for Januzaj to hit, but Januzaj was already aware that no one had made that run. When you see that, you know that our attackers aren't on the same wavelength and we need to hope they gel soon. The same applies to a couple of very inviting looking balls put in by Lynden Gooch, which didn't reach a teammate.
There's a lot of work to do. David Moyes needs to hope that it's a simple as some players recovering from injury and some new arrivals. It's not particularly insightful but Cattermole, Kirchhoff or the yet to be signed Yann M'Vila would make our team look a hell of a lot stronger when you look at how easily our midfield is getting bypassed. You can understand that when you play Manchester City but a Middlesbrough side who are playing the same midfielders they did in the Championship? That's worrying. The defence needs a touch up too as Lamine Kone doesn't seem to be an option at present and John O'Shea limped off the field. For a debut in a new league, playing the majority of the game alongside a central midfielder, Papy Djilobodji looked promising. He'll need a solid partner though, especially against a higher quality of opposition.
The second half performance has to be what the team works towards. It wasn't outstanding but it was functional and had intent, which was pleasing to see after a calamitous first forty five minutes. Due to the terrible position we'd found ourselves in, the team had to put everything they had into just getting us back into the game so it was no surprise they looked burnt out after Patrick van Aanholt's goal. Still, at least there was a reaction, and whilst it may have been against a side sitting deep on a two goal lead, it's still something the manager can hopefully build on.
Moyes can keep trying to organise but he needs reinforcements. Player's leaving means his shopping list keeps growing and he needs new blood if he wants his ideas to implemented effectively.