It was over ten years since Middlesbrough last tasted victory over Sunderland in the Premier League. Stewart Downing played in that fixture too, a 3-0 victory at the Stadium Of Light. Current team mate and match winner Christian Stuani was plying his trade in the Uruguayan Segunda Division that year – the second tier in Uruguayan football.
While some may debate the purity of this derby it was certainly thrust under the microscope with more scrutiny with Newcastle United out of the picture.
Two managers of the opposite ends of the reputation spectrum as David Moyes continues his battle to restore what is quickly becoming an unsalvageable standing in the game as a manager while his opposite number, the charismatic and passionate Aitor Karinka was looking to further enhance his rising status as a top level manager.
Like many derbies that have gone before it the day was settled with moments of magic. Stuani twice sprinkled stardust over the contest to give the newly promoted squad their first win in the top flight since April 2009 when they beat Hull City 3-1.
The opening exchanges saw Sunderland create several half chances with new boy Adnan Januzaj, looking to recapture his 2013-14 form, looking lively operating on the right hand side.
Stunai’s stunning opener came after just 13 minutes and shook the Stadium Of Light to its core. The rangy attacking midfielder let off an absolute thunderbolt from 25 yards to sucker punch the home side. Patrick van Aanholt got caught in two minds with a smart overlapping run from fellow full back Emilio Ensue. Middlesbrough isolated the Dutch defender allowing the Uruguayan space to blast past Vito Mannone.
Moyes, a man brought in to bring organisation and win with desire, saw his team lose second balls in dangerous areas and tempted Aitor Karanka’s side to try their luck from distance again.
Januzaj and Jermain Defoe, who will be key contributors to the cause if Sunderland are to survive this season, both attempted to bring their side level but to no avail. Moyes’ stock, still damaged from failed spells with Manchester United and Real Sociedad, was seeing value tumble further.
Moyes’ troubles worsened when John O’Shea was forced to depart just after half an hour with an apparent groin injury. With Lamine Kone out with a supposed back injury, Papy Djilobodji still an unknown entity and Donald Love looking quite out of his depth at Premier League level the Sunderland back line was on life support already.
Right on the stroke of half time Middlesbrough doubled their lead and Stuani doubled his tally with a sumptuous team goal. Adam Forshaw played a quick one two with Gaston Ramirez before playing a delightful slide rule pass to Alvaro Negredo. The former Manchester City striker cut inside past an over committing Jack Rodwell and unselfishly squared the ball to Stuani to tap in past two hapless Sunderland defenders.
Middlesbrough suffocated any Sunderland attempt at a comeback but the Space Invaders way in which the Sunderland attacks mounted up saw cracks appear in the Middlesbrough wall. Van Aanhold forced a smart save from Brad Guzan and Defoe’s ammunition was starting to arrive more hastily.
Januzaj, displaying all the talents which enticed Moyes to reunite with the Manchester United starlet, and Duncan Watmore both fizzed in dangerous balls before another chance fell to Defoe. This time his effort superbly blocked by Ben Gibson but it was baton down the hatches time for the visitors.
Finally the Sunderland pressure told on the 70 minute mark. Watmore struck a vicious effort from 18 yards and Guzan spilled the stinging shot. Van Aanholt followed up showing predatory instincts we’ve come to expect from Defoe down the years.
Moments later the American almost gifted the home side the equaliser they so desperately craved but managed to force the ball behind. Sunderland had burst into life, Middlesbrough were hanging on for dear life.
The titanic endeavour Sunderland showed to rescue a point eventually took its toll as Moyes’ men tired and allowed Middlesbrough to professionally see the game out. Teams mirroring their managers in every way – Sunderland slumping while Middlesbrough’s Premier League credentials continue to grow.