McClaren under fire as Sunderland taste victory

Middlesbrough 0 <br/> Sunderland 2
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The Independent Football

It has taken them 28 games and nearly three years to experience the thrill of a Premiership win, so do not try telling a Sunderland supporter this morning that the Premiership has become boring and predictable.

After five defeats and the agony of conceding a last-second equaliser against West Bromwich Albion, Mick McCarthy's side left the pitch last weekend with even the most optimistic of their supporters fearing that, after just six games, relegation was already looking inevitable.

A week, and an unexpected victory over their local rivals later, and the belief will come flooding back as those same supporters dispense with their depression, go giddy with derby success and predict a European challenge.

Such is the nature of the fickle football fan, but having endured the mockery of others for so long, few can begrudge them such a moment of heady expectation.

This was their first Premiership win since a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at the Stadium of Light on 15 December 2002 and their first away win in the top flight since a 1-0 victory at Leeds United on 28 August 2002. Fittingly the one survivor from that side, Julio Arca, was on the score sheet yesterday, his delightful free-kick giving Sunderland some breathing space after a prolonged period of pressure from the home side.

While Steve McClaren may have led Middlesbrough to their most successful period in the Premiership, he is increasingly criticised by the fans for a perceived negative approach. McClaren will probably reflect on the fact that some people are never satisfied but, like other Premiership sides, Middlesbrough are discovering that not everything is as rosy as it once was in the Premiership garden.

They fell behind here after just 85 seconds, although they had already wasted their first opening of the match, Mark Viduka's half volley falling kindly for Kelvin Davis.

The Black Cats goalkeeper's punt forward immediately found Tommy Miller. The midfielder, who joined the club he supported as a boy from Ipswich Town in the summer, exchanged passes with Andy Gray and then steered a low shot past Brad Jones into the bottom corner.

It was Miller's first taste of a North-east derby and as the travelling supporters slipped into delirium, the zeal of his celebrations betrayed the thrill of a fan, as well as the relief of scoring his first goal for the club.

Middlesbrough were stung into a reply, only to find Davis in inspired mood. The goalkeeper had been largely at fault for West Bromwich's draining equaliser, but he bounced back superbly.

Twice in the first half he pulled off remarkable stops, the first to keep out James Morrison after Fabio Rochemback had sliced open the Sunderland defence and again a minute later when Nyron Nosworthy's sliced clearance fell straight to Yakubu on the edge of the six-yard box.

Middlesbrough had other sights of goal, but Viduka curled wide from the edge of the area after the break and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink headed wide late on.

Sunderland, as the home crowd grew increasingly restless at the poor quality of their side's final ball, scented the tide was with them and their decision to play a more attacking 4-4-2 formation for the first time on their travels was rewarded.

Stephen Elliott hustled Gareth Southgate, and when he was brought down, up stepped Arca to curl the ball home. Boro would have been expected to rally, they did not, and the boos at the final whistle said it all.

Goals: Miller (2) 0-1, Arca (60) 0-2.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Jones; Xavier, Ehiogu (Maccarone, 37), Southgate, Pogatetz; Morrison (Parlour, 64), Boateng, Rochemback, Queudrue; Yakubu (Hasselbaink, 64), Viduka. Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Hasselbaink, Doriva, Parlour.

Sunderland (4-4-2) Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell, Hoyte; Whitehead (Lawrence, 90), Bassila, Miller, Arca; Gray, Elliott (Le Tallec, 83). Substitutes not used: Murphy, Collins, Welsh.

Booked: Middlesbrough Queudrue, Maccarone; Sunderland Hoyte.

Referee: H Webb.

Man of the match: Arca.

Attendance: 29,583.