Boro began the season with seven matches without a win, what were the main factors behind that poor run?
A combination of a loss of key players, new signings bedding in, testing a new style of playing and being a bit unlucky.
Key players wise, we lost 66 goal contributions with Akpom, Archer, Ramsey and Giles leaving (who have left for a combined fee of £50m in the summer), so it’s a big hole to fill - and that’s not to mention the squad players who have left, too.
Bringing in 11 players for very little outlay who have minimal Championship experience between them was always going to be a risk, and they will need time. We adjusted our strategy this year too by bringing in players such as Silvera and Rogers who like to progress the ball forward through dribbling, but we’ve not seen that just yet.
We adjusted our shape to play a 4-2-4 in possession this year - moving away from the 3-2-5 last year, and it didn’t really work as we kept getting caught on the transition. Saying that, we were creating a load of chances and just couldn’t score.
Moving back to the 3-2-5 has helped turn things around but there’s still plenty of improvements to be made because we aren’t at the level we need to be yet.
They are signs though... it’s clicking.
During that spell, were any question marks raised over Michael Carrick, or were fans relaxed knowing how great a job he did last year?
You always get a selection of supporters who aren’t happy, and with the disappointment of the playoff semi and the poor start, that can fuel things.
I’d say 95% of fans are happy with Carrick - I think we’d have to go on a disastrous run for him to be questioned about his job.
Fast forward to the present, Boro are unbeaten in four, winning their last three - what has changed to prompt this turn in form?
A couple of reasons really, players starting to click and create relationships on the pitch and also changing our shape when in possession.
Last year, we’d play a 3-2-5 in possession with the aim to move everyone bar Giles to the right side, aim for the switch and then we’d create a chance.
This season we moved to a 4-2-4 in an attempt to hold possession more and to stop transitions but ultimately it did the opposite.
So we’ve reverted back to the shape that made us so good last season and this has helped massively.
Similarly to Sunderland, Boro appear to have gone down the route of signing enigmas and young players from overseas - were you happy with your summer business?
It’s still really early to say, we lost a lot of players and a lot of quality too.
But all of the signings have shown quality at times but it takes each player time to adjust.
Seny Dieng has started off well in nets (although data may suggest otherwise, which is why eye test is important) - he’s been a brilliant replacement for Zack Steffen.
Notable mentions are Rav Van Den Berg, Lewis O’Brien (until he got injured) and Emmanuel Latte Lath, who is getting better every time he plays.
I think it’s too early to judge the likes of Silvera, Rogers, Engel, Bangura and Greenwood just yet.
One huge loss was top scorer Chuba Akpom, who scored 28 goals last season, did you the fee you received was fair and who has replaced him?
Yeah, I’d say the fee was fair. It was probably the best fee we could get given he was out of contract in the summer. He, of course, is a big miss for us. But we’ve had to change to cope with him moving to Ajax.
The number 10 / Supporting Striker has been occupied by Crooks this season with former Sunderland Graduate Josh Coburn leading the line.
Emmanuel Latte Lath has started off well following his move from Atalanta but has needed time to adjust.
One ex-Sunderland youth player that Boro have brought in on loan this season is Sam Greenwood. What impact has he made so far?
Not much to be honest, he made his first start against Cardiff and looked really bright but that’s about it.
Aside from the above-mentioned players, who has impressed you so far this season?
I’d say there are three stand out players so far: Riley McGree, Hayden Hackney and Rav Van Den Berg. Rav, at 18, looks like a real coup for Boro. A really mature defender who can play across the back line.
Ex-Boro loanee Patrick Roberts has turned his career around entirely since coming to the Stadium of Light. Did you expect him to make it at that level consistently from what you saw during his loan spell?
I’m happy he has to be honest. He always had the potential under Woodgate / Warnock but was just plagued with injuries.
I’ve felt for him over the last few years because the injuries must have been rough for him.
He’s got the talent and it’s great to see him do it on a more regular basis.
How do you expect Boro to approach the match tactically and which players do you think will start?
Given Mowbray still watches all of our matches he’s probably the most well-equipped manager in the league to face us. I’m never confident playing a Mowbray side!
I’m expecting the team to be: Dieng, Smith, Fry, McNair (Lenihan if fit), Van Den Berg, Howson, Hackney, McGree, Crooks, Jones, Latte Lath.
Sunderland won this fixture 2-0 at home last season - what is your score prediction for this time around?
The Mowbray factor tells me this will be a 2-0 Sunderland win.
But I’ve got to predict a win haven’t I? 1-2 Boro!