RF: Since our last meeting, there have been changes in both dugouts. Garry Monk was dismissed, under somewhat bizarre circumstances, and Boro have struggled to get going this season. Did you think it was the correct call?
RN: I was shocked by the timing, coming straight after a great away victory and just before Christmas. It seemed a bit callous.
Garry Monk was on the pitch celebrating with the players on the pitch and the fans in the stand after a tremendous second half comeback at Sheffield Wednesday, yet within hours he was sacked!
Sadly we didn’t seem to progressing in any way. We repeated all the mistakes from the week before at Millwall in the first half at Sheff Wed and that was summing up the season, a constant one step forwards, two steps back.
We must have sounded out Tony Pulis earlier, possibly a week before after being taken apart at Millwall and then needed to act fast to bring him in before someone like Swansea tried to entice him. That is how I would read it.
Unfortunately, there is so much at stake now in the first season or two seasons following relegation and if you don’t get back in contention for promotion then you can get stuck, as we know only too well.
RF: Replacing Monk is the big man Tony Pulis, who you just mentioned there. He’ll surely introduce some steel to the side and will probably get you grinding out results. Are you pleased with the appointment?
RN: Tony Pulis brings vast experience and reputation - a reputation that is, of course, both good and bad.
He will get us organised and will hopefully, finally, get the best out of an expensively assembled squad and maybe be able to identify key areas we need to change.
We saw an almost immediate impact away at Preston, where he made three changes early in the second half, switched formation and tactics.
The result was a sea change on the pitch, with a down and out Boro coming from behind to storm the second half for victory.
RF: The transfer window is open now, of course. Do you expect Steve Gibson to back Pulis in the window? Where do you need to strengthen?
RN: Tony Pulis has already stated he thinks the squad is too heavy in some places, so there could maybe be more outgoings than incomings.
Already, full back Connor Roberts has returned from a loan spell to Swansea and Fabio has also indicated he wants to leave to return to Brazil.
I think Pulis will be backed by Steve Gibson but I don’t think we will break the bank this time, just maybe make a couple of careful dips into the market for players that could add a winning ingredient or two.
RF: Who’s been playing well for Middlesbrough lately? Is there anyone in particular that we should be worried about?
RN: Stewart Downing has been back to his very best form this season. He has so much experience, vision and technical ability, and often destroys teams with his precise passing.
Although he’s in his early thirties now, Downing is darting down the wings again like he did when he was a youngster. Stewy has looked a class above in recent weeks.
Also watch out if Adama Traore is involved, either starting or off the bench - his explosive pace and power usually means he is only stopped by a foul. If that happens around the box, as it usually does, then that will put Sunderland under a lot of pressure.
It is only a matter of time before Traore gets felled for a penalty.
RF: Even though our side looks very threadbare at the minute, is there anyone in the Sunderland side you’re fearful of?
RN: James Vaughan has looked dangerous against us in the past.
I remember him causing us real problems when he was playing at Huddersfield. Aiden McGeady has a lot of experience and trickery, and scored recently in your win at Nottingham Forest.
The two youngsters, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja, that starred off the bench in your home win over Fulham look really hot prospects. They could relish the atmosphere.
It was just the one goal from our own teenage starlet, Marcus Tavernier, that separated the teams last time, so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Asoro or Maja stepping forward on this occasion.
RF: With it being the FA Cup, do you expect Pulis to rotate? What kind of team do you think he’ll put out?
RN: Tony Pulis has said he wants to look at all the players, and after a hectic festive programme this should have been the ideal opportunity but, let’s face it, no one wants to risk losing such a massive local head-to-head.
Pulis lost his first home game (against Aston Villa) and he is not going to want to lose again.
A couple of players do look tired - Britt Assombalonga could well be rested - but his replacement as sub at Deepdale, big Rudy Gestede, gave the Preston defence a torrid time so you will get no let up there.
Patrick Bamford may also start, and I’d like to think that he will be full of motivation to prove to his new boss that he should be starting every week.
I think we will definitely field a very strong starting line-up. There may be changes but I don’t expect too many youngsters will be pitched in for this Tees-Wear tie.
RF: Finally, give us a prediction please?
RN: It will be close again, as it was in the league game. Only a fabulous early save from Darren Randolph prevented you taking the lead. Goodness knows what would have happened then.
I am going for a 2-1 Boro win this time. I’m expecting a really competitive game and a big, big atmosphere. It should be a classic 3rd round FA Cup tie.
I cannot wait!