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Fan Focus - Boro fanzine editor Rob Nichols on the Derby Of The Doomed

We last caught up with Rob Nichols back in August, when both him and Rory were feeling much more positive about the season. It’s safe to say that things have changed somewhat for both of them now, as The Fly Me To The Moon editor talks about the sacking of Aitor Karanka, the inevitability of relegation and the battle for 19th place.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

RF: What are your feelings on the sacking of Aitor Karanka? It seemed to make sense at the time and but the team haven't improved at all since his departure.

RN: Sadly he had to go and with hindsight the decision was made too late to save our season and Premier League status. Karanka was targeting 4th bottom place and getting to survival almost incrementally through draws. When teams like Palace, Leicester and Swansea revived we did not or could not respond and change our tactics. Sadly, we therefore threw away a great position in the league coming into this calendar year.

RF: Former Sunderland man Steve Agnew is of course in charge at the moment, is there any chance he'll be given the job on a full time basis?

RN: I really like Steve as a person and have the greatest respect for him as a coach. I also believe he has selected a very good backroom team mixing experience and passion and knowledge for the club.

But we have obviously failed to react and win. I think Steve Agnew would have to finish the season strongly to have any chance of being offered the job next season.

RF: With relegation looking inevitable for both Sunderland and Middlesbrough, I'm interested to know how you feel about it because I'm pretty worried about how we'll fare down there. Do you think you'll bounce straight back up?

RN: Newcastle fans do not know how lucky they are. It is such a difficult league to escape and seems to get harder all the time. But parachute payments do give the relegated clubs a massive advantage. Financial Fair Play does work at Championship level, in that clubs with the weakest finances go down and only the best run clubs compete. I think Sunderland need to keep David Moyes but will surely need a lot of Championship experienced players.

Boro could do with keeping hold of the majority of our promotion team and we would love Ben Gibson to stay. I also really wish Karanka had not sold Jordan Rhodes or even Albert Adomah.

I really hope we can bounce back because it becomes harder and harder after that. It took us seven years last time and right now that seems like a lifetime or a life sentence.

RF: You mentioned Ben Gibson there, are you worried about losing key players such as him in the summer?

RN: Yes we are worried about losing Ben Gibson and I hope his uncle will do his best to have a word. We also worry about losing players like Adam Clayton. I will have no concerns about Gaston Ramirez leaving, however. What a let down he has been.

RF: Alvaro Negredo's power is certainly capable of breaching our defence - would you say he's the main danger man for Boro going in the game?

RN: Yes he has a found a route to goal again. We need to keep him company and not let him be too exposed. Good service in the box from Downing, Friend and Traore will be imperative.

RF: And on that note, is there anyone in the Sunderland ranks you're worried about?

RN: Yes two players. Defoe is lethal and your keeper is superb. We have so much trouble scoring anyway so getting past Pickford could be a real headache.

RF: How do you see Agnew approaching the game and what do you think the starting line up will be?

RN: We have injuries, suspensions and have just been humiliated at AFC Bournemouth so there has been quite a lot to trouble Steve Agnew - oh, and we more or less got relegated at the weekend too. Once again we have to win. So, nothing has changed there from other recent games.

I think we will revert to a back four again as the three centre backs did not shut out Bournemouth. Fabio might come in at right back, with Calum Chambers playing alongside Ben Gibson in the centre. If Valdes is fit he will play, as will former Sunderland player Grant Leadbitter. But they might both have to sit it out.

I think Traore could come in for the suspended Ramirez in order to try and hit you with pace. Although, sadly, he's inconsistent with his final ball.

RF: To finish off - Give us a score prediction...

RN: It's hard to see anyone scoring many if any but I am going for 1-0 to Boro. Our first win of 2017 and Steve Agnew's first ever!


You can check out Fly Me To The Moon on their website and follow Rob on Twitter.