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Why have Sunderland often struggled when facing Middlesbrough away?

Our record in away fixtures against the ‘Boro has been dismal since the 1950’s, but why is that, and why does the game seem to mean more to them? We asked our writers for their thoughts

Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Gav says…

The derby that isn’t a derby…except it is a derby, but not to everyone and only to some.

And most of those who think it’s a derby are from Teesside, who don’t like being seen as insignificant in comparison to Newcastle, and Sunderland fans in the main will trip over themselves to tell anyone it’s not a derby, but it’s the same routine every time we play them.

The fact is that our record against Middlesbrough is absolutely dismal and particularly at their place, where since 1954, we’ve won just three times to their thirty five.

That isn’t by accident. Sure, you expect the home team to win more than they lose over time against any given opponent, but those numbers are dismal.

What it tells me is that more often than not, Middlesbrough recognise the significance of the occasion and we don’t, so how do we fix that?

Well, I’m not sure we really can, and not organically, anyway.

They simply care more about playing Sunderland than Sunderland do about playing them and we can’t change that.

However, I do think that’s where the senior staff and players must step in.

We should be reminding the players in the week building up to the game of how significant this is to Middlesbrough, and I even think using the club’s poor record down the years at Ayresome Park and then the Riverside as a tool for motivation is something we should do.

We rarely turn up on the big occasions and if Michael Beale can become the fourth man to manage Sunderland to a victory on Teesside in the last seventy years, it’ll go a long way as he bids to earn the respect of a fanbase that still needs convincing he’s the man for the job.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Riverside Stadium Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

My view is quite simple: for us, it’s just another game against another Championship team, even if it isn’t for them.

We’d like to win every game at the level we’re at but in reality we never will.

Accepting that, we want the Lads to play well and put a shift in, just the same as any other fixture. I accept that we’ll lose some games as we build back towards a position where that stat will decrease, but if we play well and don’t win, we move on to the next one.

In recent years, they’ve wanted it more than us, as I believe they see this as more than just a normal game.

We should maybe do better in knowing that, and maybe this week we will, but on average we don’t excel because we aren’t really that bothered about anything other than the three points.

I suppose that’s what happens when you exist on the edge of North Yorkshire. You aren’t really a rival for proper Yorkshire teams and you aren’t seen as part of the North Easts’s main rivalry, so you hang on to anything.

I really hope we improve this record, and we’re also hoping to see an improvement in form and league points after a bit of a dip before the win against Stoke, but where the Newcastle game got me going and was something I’d never miss, this is ‘just’ Boro, so it’s nothing special.

Let’s do the job and move on.


Tom Albrighton says…

I think it’s an easy answer, and it’s because to Middlesbrough it’s a derby and to us, it just isn’t.

I’m not advocating for a sudden shift in mentality but even games against the likes of Coventry and Leeds United seem to have carried more weight than those against Middlesbrough.

For the hosts, unless they suddenly end up playing Hartlepool, we’re their nearest ‘real’ rivals and whilst their attentions are regularly drawn to Sunderland and the magnitude of our presence, they often find us looking a different way, much like that meme of the guy checking out a woman whilst holding another hand.

Ultimately, I think this gives Boro the edge. By convincing themselves that this game is a derby, it allows them to tap into the increase in energy, the buzz and all that comes with it.

As a result, we’re often found wanting because try as we might, it’s almost an impossible task to convince ourselves this game is special.

So for now, Boro hold the cards and they probably will for a long while yet whilst this fixture exists.

It may be foolish pride or just foolishness full stop, but I’d rather that than lowering ourselves to pretend our rivals are some Yorkshiremen from Wish rather than that lot up the road.

Midd’boro v Sund’land Reid Photo by Gareth Copley - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

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