Middlesbrough go fifth and heap more misery on managerless Sunderland

first_imgFootball League blog features Sunderland Share on Pinterest Football League Reuse this content Steve Gibson’s pre-season pledge to “smash the Championship” has rung a little hollow in recent weeks but, little by little, Middlesbrough are starting to suggest promotion may be possible after all.At the end of an afternoon on which Marcus Tavernier’s early goal kept managerless Sunderland stuck to the bottom of the table, Garry Monk’s side rose to fifth. It was Boro’s third win in eight days; perhaps their owner’s boast was not quite as widely optimistic as latterly advertised.While Gibson invested more than £50m in new players over the summer, their similarly relegated north-east neighbours spent a mere £1.25m. That represented one of the reasons why Simon Grayson was sacked on Tuesday night, leaving Sunderland seeking a ninth manager in six years.They were under the caretaker control of Robbie Stockdale, once a Boro defender, and Billy McKinlay on Sunday. That pair presided over a bright beginning but their team never quite recovered from falling behind in the sixth minute.What turned out to be the decisive goal began with Stewart Downing issuing a reminder of the outstanding player he once was courtesy of a sublime reverse pass dispatched in Martin Braithwaite’s direction. All that remained was for Braithwaite, excellent throughout, to deliver a square ball across the area which was met by Tavernier who, having evaded Billy Jones, volleyed past Robbin Ruiter from close range.Regarded as “the new Downing” by many on Teesside, Tavernier is an 18-year-old England U-19 international left winger. Yet another highly promising graduate of Boro’s excellent academy, he has now scored twice in his last four first-team appearances.If an apparent inability to stop conceding goals played a big part in costing Grayson his job, Sunderland’s attacking department have done a much better job this season.By way of emphasising this they forced Darren Randolph into an important double save in the third minute. Admittedly, Monk’s goalkeeper should probably have done better than merely parry Didier Ndong’s initial shot but he redeemed himself with a stellar reaction stop to prevent Lewis Grabban redirecting the rebound beyond his grasp.Randolph could have done without the low lunchtime November sun getting in his eyes during the first half but surprisingly refused to wear the cap dispatched by his anxious bench. Impressive saves from Lee Cattermole and Billy Jones – even if the latter was offside – suggested he knew what he was doing but, urged on by Cattermole, Sunderland were in no mood to surrender.The veteran midfielder is an acquired managerial taste and, perhaps significantly, Grayson had latterly dropped the former Boro protege to the bench. While it was no surprise to see Stockdale and McKinlay restore Cattermole – who, unsurprisingly, acquired yet another yellow card for his collection after needlessly fouling Tavernier late in the first half – to the starting lineup they did not even offer Lamine Koné a place on the substitutes’ bench. Not so long ago Koné was the subject of an £18m bid from Everton but the Ivorian centre-back’s shocking subsequent regression had quite a bit to do with Grayson’s unseating.Cattermole’s lack of pace in midfield proved an increasing problem for Stockdale and McKinlay as Boro upped the second-half tempo. With Braithwaite’s amalgam of clever movement and technical trickery warming the neutral on a cold, crisp Teesside afternoon Monk’s players were in the ascendant.Cued up by Britt Assombalonga, Braithwaite looked set to double the home advantage but Ruiter saved well to deny the Denmark forward. By then though Boro had done enough. Share on LinkedIn Topicscenter_img Share on WhatsApp Share via Email Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Championship Share on Messenger Middlesbroughlast_img

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