Sunderland clash underlines size of Middlesbrough’s Premier League task

Sunderland clash underlines size of Middlesbrough’s Premier League task

With the best will in the world to our relegation-dodging pseudo-rivals, this weekend’s opponents Sunderland are one of the worst sides Middlesbrough will face in the league this season.

This says more about the frankly ridiculous strength of the Premier League in the current era – remember when former Bayern Munich wunderkind Xherdan Shaqiri scored that belter for Stoke City at the Riverside last week – than it does about David Moyes’ side, and it also speaks volumes about the size of Boro’s task this season.

For while there are few teams poorer than the Black Cats in the division, on paper this looks like an even game which Boro are perhaps more likely to lose than win. Sunderland showed they are no pushovers against a sputtering Manchester City side last weekend, with Jermain Defoe showcasing the trick that a makeshift defence will spend 90 minutes trying to prevent him from repeating at the Stadium of Light this weekend; putting the ball in the goal from not very far away.

Given the turnover in managers in recent years over on Wearside, Moyes will be desperate to make a good first impression in his first home game at the club, while the atmosphere should be a good one with ‘the other derby’ being the only one Sunderland are going to get this season - complimentary wagering in Ireland.

One only has to ask a Newcastle fan to find out just how good Sunderland’s recent derby record is, despite this presumably not being one if Karanka engineers a victory. They are unbeaten against Newcastle United of the Championship in nine encounters, winning six in a row in the meantime, and whatever force it is that has engineered this record will be harnessed against Boro this weekend.

But there is no reason to be pessimistic, despite all of this. A league derby that, actually, probably is a derby whether Sunderland like it or not, is something to be savoured considering we’ve had to put up with Leeds and Burnley for the last seven years.

Come Monday morning, Boro fans across the North East could be strutting into work, school or wherever else, sitting down next to their Mackem friends with a grin the width of the Transporter Bridge. We know we’re the finest club in the North East, but it’s been a while since we’ve been able to prove it.

There’s no point being over-confident, particularly on Twitter – you’re only going to end up with 600 retweets from Sunderland fans if Defoe shins in a 97th-minute winner. But the fans that got their hands on a ticket go in the knowledge that this is a big opportunity in a season of big opportunities.

Two games in, four points, a positive goal difference and an early blow for Sunderland – sounds good, doesn’t it?

- Sam France

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