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Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Points: A Riverside jailbreak as Rusyn saves a point for Sunderland!

Despite a woeful second half display, our Ukrainian striker was the hero as his late goal salvaged a draw against Middlesbrough. Phil West looks at the game’s main stories

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

A scarcely-deserved point for the Lads, but we’ll take it!

Given our utterly dismal record on Teesside over the last seventy years and the fact that we weren’t exactly in sparkling form coming into the game, any kind of result here would’ve been gladly accepted before kick off and at full time, Michael Beale would’ve certainly been the happier of the two bosses.

Despite another patchy away performance, we were able to take a point from a game we could’ve won had it not been for missed chances in the first half, and that we could’ve easily lost after a largely dismal second half display.

As ever, Middlesbrough’s players took the game far more seriously than we did, and despite a promising first half during which we could’ve taken the lead had Abdoullah Ba shot with more power and conviction, the hosts turned up the wick in the second half and Marcus Forss’ goal (from a free kick which shouldn’t have been awarded) seemed to have set us on the road to defeat as we simply crumbled after the break.

Nevertheless, we stayed in the game at 1-0 and when the brilliant Jack Clarke (who was superb all day) set up Nazariy Rusyn to make it 1-1 (more on that later) it was a late twist that salvaged something from the game when it seemed like a forlorn hope, and it also ensured that we made the journey back up the A19 with something to show for our efforts.

Deserved? Hardly. Vital? Absolutely.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Nazariy Rusyn changes the game for Sunderland

Before I go any further, I’ll put my cards on the table and declare that I like Mason Burstow.

He’s an honest player who clearly wants to do well but he simply isn’t the answer if we’re looking for a goalscoring forward who can also hustle, harry and stretch opposition defences with penetrating runs and convert chances through sharp finishing.

He offered no threat whatsoever on Sunday and our lack of cutting edge in the first half was glaring as nothing came off for the young loanee.

Rusyn, on the other hand, is blessed with all of those attributes and his introduction on Sunday was hugely important as we tried to find a way back into the game.

The Ukrainian forward wasted no time in getting into the faces of Middlesbrough’s defence and his goal, a firmly-struck shot from a sweeping Jack Clarke pass, was well taken, even if home goalkeeper Tom Glover didn’t exactly cover himself in glory as he was beaten at his near post.

Simply put, Rusyn has to start games from now on, because he offers far more in terms of dynamism and cutting edge than the Chelsea loanee, and this might also represent an opportunity to bring Hemir back into the fold as a substitute and gradually start to build his confidence back up.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

A promising debut for Leo Hjelde

There was very much a ‘Leeds United old boys’ club’ feel about this game, with former Elland Road regulars Luke Ayling and Jonny Howson lining up for Middlesbrough, and Jack Clarke and Norwegian debutant Hjelde in the Sunderland starting eleven, and it was a solid enough introduction to life in red and white for the young defender.

Having not played regular first team football for quite some time, there was a bit of rustiness on display early on, but he also showed some touches of class and wasn’t afraid to carry the ball out from the back when the opportunity presented itself.

It’s not easy to make your debut for the Lads in such a game, and he’ll probably be pleased to have come away having not tasted defeat, but there was plenty to build on for Hjelde and with more game time, he’ll hopefully become even more influential and establish himself as a reliable option in what’s often been a problem position.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Abdoullah Ba shows the best and worst of his form

If someone asks you to highlight a game in which we witnessed ‘a classic Abdoullah Ba performance’, you’d be hard pressed to find a more glaring example than this.

The young winger, who retained his place in the starting eleven despite the return to fitness of Patrick Roberts, was full of running and trickery in the first half, but he was also responsible for two glaring misses that could’ve changed the dynamic of the game.

The first was a difficult chance as he had no support nearby and subsequently found the side netting, and the second was a bizarrely casual attempt from three yards out when it was seemingly easier to score. These were two moments that typified another up and down performance from the Frenchman.

Following his encouraging display against Stoke last weekend, he kept his place at the Riverside on merit and was a very useful attacking outlet in the first half, but that habit of missing easy chances and occasionally running down blind alleys hasn’t been eradicated from his game, and it showed that he’s still got some way to go before he’s as polished as his main rival for the right wing starting berth.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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