The story so far...
Tenth-placed Middlesbrough are finally looking like the promotion candidates we all felt they would be this summer. A poor start to the season saw Garry Monk under some severe pressure, but two wins away from home have began to ease that.
The Boro started the season with a defeat at fellow promotion candidates Wolves but they bounced back with two home wins against Sheffield United and Burton Albion.
Late September and early October were brutal for Monk and Boro as they went six games without a win in all competitions - not good enough for a side who have spent by far the most over the summer.
Six wins, five draws and four defeats have put Monk’s side just below the play-off contenders in the Championship - they have scored the same amount of goals as Sunderland: 20. Middlesbrough though have only conceded 13, which is 17 less than ourselves.
The Last Time Out..
Boro picked up a vital away win at Hull on Tuesday night which gave boss Garry Monk a real boost. Striker Martin Braithwaite opened the scoring with a tidy finish on 13 minutes.
Britt Assombalonga doubled the away side’s lead by heading in a Cyrus Christie cross just ten minutes before the end of the first half, before Grant Leadbitter rounded off proceedings with an 85th minute penalty to give Boro a 3-1 victory at the KCom Stadium.
Monk’s side only had 40% possession at Hull, but when they had the ball they were attacking. They had more shots than the hosts and executed a counter-attacking game effectively.
Whilst there has been an inevitability of former Sunderland and Newcastle players scoring against us this season, I have decided that Britt Assombalonga is the man that Sunderland desperately need to keep a strong eye on - and not local lad Grant Leadbitter.
Assombalonga has eight goals so far this season and has proven himself to be a consistent scorer at this level over the last few years. The striker is adept in just about every attacking situation and, at this level, he’s top notch.
Sunderland will do well to limit Assombalonga to a couple of chances, but I am sure he is licking his lips at the thought of coming up against a team that have not kept a clean sheet yet this season.
The Treatment Room...
Rudy Gestede is likely to return to the Boro squad this weekend following his recovery from an injury sustained in August, whilst former Manchester Untied full back Fabio is a doubt after he picked up a knock midweek at Hull.
Garry Monk has been touted as one of Britain's best young managers and it is not difficult to see why. Monk had a long and successful playing career, turning out on over 300 occasions for Swansea City at all levels of the Football League. In 2014, Monk was given the chance to manage Swansea as interim manager and his first task was to defeat Cardiff City, in which he led his team to a 3-0 victory.
Monk signed a three year contract at the end of the 2013-14 season to be the permanent Swansea manager, and a successful 2014-15 campaign saw the former defender guide the Swans to wins at Old Trafford and the Emirates, managing to break their record points tally whilst finishing eighth in the Premier League.
A poor start to the 2015-16 season - where Swansea went on a run of one win in 11 games - saw Monk relieved of his duties, ending a twelve year association with the Welsh club.
But, he didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity as he was appointed Leeds United manager prior to the 2016-17 season. It was a successful year which saw the Yorkshire side just miss the playoffs, but a change of ownership at the end of the campaign saw Monk leave due to a contract disagreement.
Boro came calling, and after reported interest from Sunderland, Monk decided that his best choice was a move to Teesside.
Jeremy Simpson has refereed Sunderland once this season - our poor 2-1 home defeat to Sheffield United.
Simpson has also taken charge of Boro just once so far this season - their home defeat to Norwich City in September.
Boro will actually offer a different sort of challenge this weekend to most teams in this division as they have a quite clear passing identity. Do not expect the Teessiders to play a long ball game, but a more methodical passing game in which they rely on quality to win.
Middlesbrough’s strengths make it essential that Sunderland pack the midfield with a central three. The best way of stopping Monk’s side is through numbers, and if we opt for a midfield two we’ll be most certainly overran.