It may not be the same as playing Newcastle but it’s fair to say that, over the years, we’ve had some almighty tussles with our Teesside neighbours.
Ahead of our clash at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, I’ve taken a look back at my first experience of this fixture and as it turned out, it was one of the more exciting Premier League matches I’ve ever seen us involved in!
Heading into this one, we knew that a win would seal Premier League safety with two matches left in the 2007/2008 season.
Last time out, we’d lost 2-0 away at Newcastle on a fairly flat day at St James’ Park, but the game against Middlesbrough had over 45,000 fans in attendance and kicked off amid the kind of spine-tingling atmosphere I’ve always associated with that season.
It wasn’t exactly a ‘must win’ game, but with relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers and top four-chasing Arsenal to come, we would’ve liked to have got the job done against Gareth Southgate’s team.
The meeting at the Riverside was eventful with Grant Leadbitter and the late Liam Miller both scoring in a 2-2 draw, and the home game would leave hardly anyone disappointed- unless you were a Middlesbrough fan of course!
The importance of the match was not lost on the players, and two goals in the first six minutes highlighted this.
Boro’s Turkish striker Tuncay Sanli made the most of some poor Sunderland defending to find himself one-on-one with Craig Gordon. He made no mistake with the finish and it was the worst possible start for Sunderland.
We were behind for just two minutes, however, as two defenders named Danny combined to bring us level.
Collins floated in a lovely cross and Gibraltan hero Higginbotham guided a header beyond a flat-footed Brad Jones, sparking huge relief on Wearside.
The relief soon turned to pure joy for this twelve-year-old Sunderland fanatic and thousands of others inside the Stadium of Light when Michael Chopra put us in front in first half injury time. The ex-Cardiff man did well to beat David Wheater and divert the ball in via the crossbar.
The second half turned into a bit of a slog, but we were slowly edging towards a huge three points until a through-ball took a deflection and landed at the feet of Afonso Alves.
The Brazilian forward did just enough to beat both Gordon and Higginbotham, and the visitors were level with around fifteen minutes left.
As the final minutes ticked by, it looked as though an anxious final two matches might’ve been in store for Sunderland, given the scores elsewhere.
By this point in the season, we were all fully aware of how many points we’d picked up in injury time, and a last-gasp goal here would turn one point into three.
The winner was scored in front of the north stand, I didn’t really see what happened until I saw the highlights back home. A dangerous corner from Grant Leadbitter wasn’t dealt with, and Emanuel Pogatetz could only head the ball onto the crossbar and over his own goal line.
Joyous celebrations ensued and Sunderland were safe in the Premier League!