Middlesbrough lifted by Marten de Roon to pile more misery on Sunderland
Home team scorers Marten de Roon 8
Middlesbrough finally got round to winning their first Premier League game of 2017 as the so-called “derby of the doomed” represented a new nadir in David Moyes’s increasingly troubled Sunderland tenure.
Moyes was sunk by Marten de Roon’s early goal to leave Sunderland fans demanding his sacking and contemplating imminent relegation to the Championship which, depending on results, could be confirmed by Saturday tea-time.
As the visiting supporters’ “We want Moyes out” shouts gathered both volume and momentum, Steve Agnew and Boro were left clinging to a shred of renewed hope yet, six points short of 17th-placed Hull City, they still seem destined shortly to join their north-east neighbours in the second tier.
Perhaps appropriately, it was an awful game with both sides fully emphasising why they are propping up the rest of the division and why Sunderland remain 12 points in arrears of Marco Silva’s side.
“It was a tough one to take,” said Moyes, who took exception to the shouts of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” directed at his players from the away end. “We played quite well at times but didn’t create enough chances. We came up short but it wasn’t for a lack of character. I wouldn’t think criticism is due on tonight’s performance. I couldn’t name a single player who didn’t fight for the shirt.”
The calls for his head met with similar defiance. “It’s to be expected,” he said. “But let me tell you, it’s the first time it’s happened at a club I’ve been at. I’m used to winning so I’m not enjoying losing. But I’m the manager here, I’m not going anywhere and I’ll take it on the chin.”
Asked if he felt a little shown up by Silva’s success on a relative shoestring at Hull, Moyes replied: “It’s good when people come in and do well but, in the Premier League, you judge people over 14 or 15 years.”
A slightly less stressed Agnew celebrated his first victory since succeeding Aitor Karanka. “It wasn’t as fluent and eye-catching as we would have liked but we hadn’t won since December so it was important,” the interim manager said.
The evening began on a sad note with a tribute to Boro’s former defender Ugo Ehiogu. As pictures of Ehiogu in action filled the ground’s big screen and time seemed temporarily turned back, Boro fans reprised those once so familiar, suddenly haunting, chants of “Ugo, Ugo”.
His old side began firmly on the back foot with Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe – seeking a first goal in nine games – swiftly testing Brad Guzan’s reflexes with a low left-foot volley unleashed after he met Didier Ndong’s chipped pass.
Unfortunately for Moyes, false dawns have been something of a recurring theme on Wearside and this soon seemed simply the latest in a long line. Things began to go wrong for the visitors when De Roon scored at the end of Boro’s first real attack. It began with a wonderfully chipped through-ball dipped over the top of Sunderland’s defence by the unattended Adam Clayton and concluded with Agnew smiling, quite possibly for the first time since the 4-0 thrashing at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Having easily gone between the equally disappointing Billy Jones and John O’Shea before seamlessly controlling that dropping delivery with his chest, De Roon struck. Taking advantage of Jordan Pickford’s advance from his line, he extended his right boot and poked the ball past the goalkeeper.
Pickford is extremely useful with his own feet and was soon using them to mop up the fallout from some alarmingly haphazard Sunderland defending, while also performing wonders to block Stewart Downing’s goalbound shot.
By now the away end was in full, echoing, voice. “Moyes out, we want Moyes out,” they chorused militantly, their mood barely appeased by the free-kick Wahbi Khazri curled in so beautifully Guzan did very well to repel it at the outset of the second half.
For a while Sunderland dominated possession but they rarely looked remotely like scoring and eventually Downing, who enjoyed some good moments, responded by using his guile and experience to gradually help readjust the power balance. Moyes may beg to differ but this was arguably his team’s worst performance this season.
“Are you watching, Ellis Short,” sang their fans, before paying pointed, wistful homage to Moyes’s most popular recent predecessor, letting Sunderland’s owner know that Roy Keane’s reinstallation would be most welcome.