Clinical Boro win north-east derby

stuani

Sunderland 1-2 Middlesbrough – www.goal.com

The summer’s Premier League talk has been dominated by the Pep vs Jose hype, but football passions are just as high in the north-east as they are in Manchester. We saw that at the Stadium of Light as Middlesbrough picked up a 2-1 win at Sunderland thanks to a first half brace from Cristhian Stuani. The Black Cats had the better of the second half, but could not build on Patrick Van Aanholt’s tap-in.

Defeat was perhaps an unfair reflection on the overall performance from Sunderland, who started reasonably well. Adnan Januzaj caused problems for George Friend in the first half, cutting inside on three minutes before unsuccessfully trying to squeeze the ball past Brad Guzan. Jermaine Defoe turned inside the box but his shot was diverted wide by Antonio Barragan, who stood strong against the veteran.

It came as a surprise when Boro opened the scoring. A shrewd off-the-ball run from Emiliano Nsue created an extra yard of space for Stuani, who blasted a wonder-strike past Vito Mannone. After that, Sunderland lost some of their intensity and didn’t get the ball to Januzaj often enough. They were not helped by the injury to John O’Shea, who was replaced by Steven Pienaar with the centre-back slot occupied by a shaky-looking Jack Rodwell.

Middlesbrough were nothing if not clinical, scoring from two of their few meaningful attacks. They got their second thanks to Adam Forshaw’s wonderful reverse pass to Alvaro Negredo, who unselfishly teed up Stuani for a tap-in.

Sunderland were getting into decent areas but their movement in the penalty area could have been bolder. Not enough of their attacking players produced enough, calling into question the exclusion of Wahbi Khazri and Jeremain Lens. The latter replaced a stuttering Paddy McNair at half-time and made an impact with his direct runs in behind.

Sunderland probed patiently through Pienaar, who picked some pinpoint passes into the penalty area. They had possession, but importantly it was possession with a purpose. Their willingness to shoot from outside the box was rewarded on 71 minutes. Watmore had been excellent in the second half and his firm drive was parried by Guzan, allowing Van Aanholt to fire home.

Aitor Karanka had earned success in the Championship by getting his team to sit back on leads, but on this occasion, that approach invited pressure. The Spaniard saw the need to change his tactics and encourage late spells of slow possession, just to take the sting out of the game and quieten the home crowd. Daniel Ayala shored things up in his first appearance of the season after he came on for N’Sue, the impressive Barragan moving to right-back.

Boro managed the game well in the final few minutes and secured a priceless derby victory. It had not been the most complete performance from the visitors, but they took their chances, which is more than can be said for Sunderland. After his first home game in charge, David Moyes will be pleased with the commitment of his players, but may demand better finishing next time around.