Manager-less Sunderland are looking to get a result at the Riverside this lunchtime after slumping to the bottom of the Championship in the wake of Simon Grayson’s sacking earlier this week.
A trip to Middlesbrough is quite possibly the last thing that caretaker managers Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay need in their efforts to lift the troubled Black Cats after a difficult few days, but a derby clash may be as good a time as any to rectify any wrongs felt.
Teesside isn’t a happy hunting ground for the Mackems - Sunderland have only won two of their last 24 games down on Teesside; an awful place to go at any time, never mind in the midst of a crisis.
Boro boss Garry Monk was under as much pressure as Grayson a couple of weeks ago without a win in five, but back-to-back victories have the Teessiders looking upwards.
A latest fresh start awaits Sunderland as the club begin yet another search for a manager, whilst Middlesbrough are lifted after turning in their two most convincing displays of the season with wins at Hull and Reading in their last two fixtures.
Last time these two sides met, Boro beat Sunderland in April to more or less kill off any hopes of survival for David Moyes’ team with a 1-0 victory. That game was the Teessiders first win of 2017, but it proved little as Steve Agnew completed Aitor Karanka’s relegation season.
Both sides have few injury concerns with Monk picking from a largely full-strength squad, restricted to decisions on who to shuffle, whilst Stockdale and McKinlay are without defender Tyias Browning and strikers James Vaughan and Josh Maja.
With every aspect of the running of Sunderland AFC picked over and condemned in the wake of Grayson’s sacking, owner Ellis Short’s rare appearance to answer questions may yet calm fears and galvanise the club for the rest of the season.
The game is a big one for Robbie Stockdale, promoted from the Sunderland bench to lead the side for a return to the club at which he spent his youth and seven years as a professional player.
2,500 Mackems will be in the away end to cheer on a Black Cats side desperate to lift themselves after another terrible week. The joint-caretakers reckon the dust has settled from Grayson’s swift sacking after Tuesday’s draw against Bolton, and will be looking for their players to provide a response.
Stockdale and McKinlay’s key decisions are who to pick in goal and how to restrict Boro's opportunities going forward.
Jason Steele will no doubt be desperate to return to the club at which he rose through the ranks early in his career. The Black Cats goalie made over 130 appearances for Middlesbrough as he broke into the England U21 set-up as a youngster.
The battle for the goalkeeping jersey has a way to play out though, with Robbin Ruiter set to keep his place despite putting in an unconvincing display himself on Tuesday.
Adam Matthews must surely continue at right back with Bryan Oviedo arguably the Black Cats most consistent player in the opposite full back slot.
The rest of the Sunderland XI largely picks itself, with Lee Cattermole likely to be restored for this derby occasion.
Ruiter, Matthews, Wilson, O’Shea, Oviedo, Cattermole, Ndong, Watmore, McNair, McGeady, Grabban.
After a terrible week, Sunderland will surely be fired up for this one and are quite simply due a result. Away win, 2-1 to the Lads.