Matthew Crichton: After being tipped for promotion, Middlesbrough currently find themselves in the relegation zone - how would you summarise your start to the season?
Phil Spencer: Honestly, it’s been a really encouraging start to the season. Results haven’t been great, as can be seen by the Championship table, but by digging a little bit deeper there are plenty of reasons to be positive if you’re a Middlesbrough fan.
We’re looking strong going forward and if we can stamp out an error or two at the back it won’t be a surprise to see us go on a bit of a run.
MC: After taking Sheffield United from League One to the Premier League, Chris Wilder was seen as an excellent appointment for Boro, how is he regarded among your fanbase?
PS: There’s no doubt that Chris Wilder is hugely popular with Middlesbrough. As well as showing signs of implementing a more attractive brand of football, fans have really responded to his no bulls*** style in the press as well.
Even with results being poor at the start of this season, no notable groups of supporters have showed signs of turning on him which is a real show of confidence in a manager who we know can help us towards a promotion push.
MC: The club received excellent fees this summer for both Djed Spence and Marcus Tavernier - do you feel that a suitable amount was reinvested into permanent signings?
PS: Some might disagree, but I think Middlesbrough’s summer transfer business has been very smart.
As a club, we’ve fallen into the trap of splashing huge sums on players while in the Championship and quite simply, it’s a huge gamble for the sustainability of the club.
While we haven’t spent anywhere near the amount that we raised by selling Spence and Tav, those funds will go a long way to helping us comply with FFP and ensuring that funds are available in January or next summer when we look to strengthen again.
It’d be naïve to think that we’ll attract transfer fees like that every year, so it’s essential that the money is used shrewdly.
MC: Paddy McNair was one of the major players Sunderland lost through being relegated to League One, which position does he play for Boro and was he worth the money?
PS: I think the money spent on Paddy McNair was decent business.
McNair has been one of our most important and most consistent performers in recent years, not to mention the fact that he’s played just about every position in our team!
In terms of his position, in my opinion, McNair is best is central defence and that’s where Wilder looks to play him where possible, however with selection problems in midfield it will not be a surprise to see him featuring there over the next few weeks.
MC: Another player Boro signed from Sunderland was Duncan Watmore, a player many were surprised to see return to the Championship - would it to right to say that he has managed to avoid injuries and develop some scoring form?
PS: It’s hard not to love Duncan Watmore.
After arriving on an initial short-term contract I don’t think many Middlesbrough fans expected anything from him but since then he’s been a really valuable part of the team.
It’s a stretch to say he’s found his goalscoring form, but Watmore always sets the bar in terms of work rate and to be fair to him, he is capable of popping up with a goal.
Watmore is one of Wilder’s most trusted performers and it’s been great to see him get his career back on track after the injury problems he had at Sunderland.
MC: Middlesbrough reportedly beat Sunderland to the signing of American international forward, Matthew Hoppe, how has he performed so far?
PS: It’s too early to judge Matthew Hoppe having only played 20 minutes of first team action so far.
That said, he has scored twice for our under-21s so it’ll be great to see how he develops over the coming weeks and months, but at 21 years of age, I think Hoppe is one for the future.
MC: Sunderland duo Danny Batth and Patrick Roberts both enjoyed loan spells with Boro - how would you summarise their time at the Riverside?
PS: Danny Batth only spent a few months with Middlesbrough under Tony Pulis, and that loan spell was pretty forgettable to be honest.
As for Patrick Roberts, he certainly showed glimpses of what he was capable of but he was a victim of playing under a manager in Neil Warnock who didn’t really trust him to play his natural game. Roberts was always someone who looked capable of thriving in the right team and I’m happy that he’s been able to show what he’s capable of with Sunderland.
MC: Given that you are unbeaten at home and there is added intensity to this game being a derby, do you think Chris Wilder will see it as the perfect game to kickstart your promotion challenge?
PS: Of course, playing a derby match will no doubt get the players and fans pumped up for this one.
Middlesbrough have played well at times this season, but that doesn’t mean anything if we aren’t getting the results needed to be where we need to be in the table.
It’s a big game because it’s a derby, but for Middlesbrough it’s also massive given the need to start turning performances into points, particularly against a side who have just been promoted from League One.
MC: What can Sunderland expect from Wilder’s side tactically and which eleven players do you think he will select?
PS: I think Middlesbrough will look to take control of this game and move forward with pace and direct passing. As has been the way this season, Isaiah Jones and Ryan Giles will be key to how we play down the flanks and will likely decide whether we get three points or not.
Predicted XI: (3-5-2): Steffen, McNair, Lenihan, Clarke; Jones, Crooks, Howson, Mowatt, Giles; Muniz, Watmore.
MC: Sunderland have failed to win any of their last six games against Boro - what is your prediction for the final score?
PS: I think that it will be an open game with both sides having chances to get the win.
Middlesbrough must be seen as favourites going into the match and providing there are no stupid mistakes, I can see Chris Wilder’s side winning 2-1.