Red card for Ince as Boksic lifts Boro

Middlesbrough 2 Sunderland 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Of the two new Premiership managers appointed at the same time as him in the summer, Steve McClaren would have noted that one, Stuart Gray, has just been fired from Southampton while the other, Glenn Roeder, is clinging on to his post at West Ham. The Middlesbrough manager's position is not under immediate threat, but this derby victory last night will have been embraced with a real fervour in the home dressing-room.

"It is ridiculous watching managers go after six games," said Gareth Southgate afterwards. "People need time to settle in here, but that will send the supporters home happy for one of the few times this season."

For a fixture that is one of the highlights of the season on Teesside, there were disappointing swathes of empty red seats to enjoy the kind of neat, passing football that McClaren was brought to the Riverside to create. Last season, they had returned the worst set of home results in their history and had begun this campaign at the Riverside with a solitary Premiership victory ­ over West Ham. This win over Sunderland, said McClaren, would inject self-belief into the veins of the players.

However, it should be said they were pitched against a Sunderland side whose weary, dated tactics of launching long balls up to Niall Quinn created no real impression, even when Boro were reduced to 10 men with the dismissal of Paul Ince, sent off for a tussle with the tall Irishman.

"I've seen that kind of thing all weekend go unpunished," said McClaren. "If it was a clash between two young players I could understand it, but it was between the two most experienced players on the pitch trying to win the ball. It looked an innocuous challenge, nothing malicious, handbags at 10 paces.

"Probably both players deserved a yellow. I thought it was poor refereeing."

Unlike his predecessor, Bryan Robson, McClaren has very little money available, which was one reason why Franck Queudrue, who was making his home debut last night, was signed on loan from Lens.

It took him one minute and 43 seconds to make a hugely significant impact as Thomas Sorensen, one of the safest pairs of goalkeeping gloves ever employed by Sunderland, allowed the Frenchman to head an entirely straightforward corner from Carlos Marinelli through his hands.

From the very beginning there was a confidence and style about Boro's play, which was considerably helped by the kind of tactical indiscipline not usually associated with Reid's teams. Sunderland chose to defend a long way from their 18-yard box and in the 21st minute, the rusty, creaking offside trap was sprung by Marinelli as the Argentine slipped through Slizard Nemeth, whom Reid had once tried to buy from Inter Bratislava, on the right of the area.

The Sunderland manager, experiencing his first defeat in a derby since February 1998, would have had cause to regret the fact he did not get his man, as a deep cross was met by Alen Boksic, whose header was deflected by Jody Craddock past his own keeper.

His team seemed unable to know how to respond. Until they went two down their play was a caricature of the "let's pump the ball up to Quinn" tactics that Reid's critics claim is his only real strategy.

Gradually, the Irishman came into his own as Jason McAteer, rescued from his limbo at Ewood Park to make his Sunderland debut, began to deliver the kind of crosses Quinn would expect at Lansdowne Road.

Nevertheless, Sunderland are a team in need of a greater transfusion of quality that McAteer can provide, and on this evidence it is likely Reid will increase his efforts to prise Trevor Sinclair away from West Ham.

Reid is famed for the ferocity of what he euphemistically calls his "half-time chats" but, like Phil Thompson at Anfield, there is plenty of good sense mixed in with the passion and Sunderland looked a considerably more competent outfit after the interval, especially when passing along the ground.

It was then that Kevin Phillips began to come into his own. A delightful dummy to a low drive from Julio Arca allowed Michael Gray to shoot fiercely from the edge of the box, and moments later Schwarzer was left helpless by a drive from the Sunderland striker that struck the advertising boards inches from his left-hand post.

This would have impressed the watching Sven Goran Eriksson whom Phillips is convinced will not pick him for England. Four days after being sacked by Lazio, Eriksson was settling into his seat at Upton Park watching the Sunderland striker who was then holder of the Soulier d'Or, awarded to Europe's leading goalscorer. Phillips did not find the net that day and whenever Eriksson has come calling either he or his team have performed wretchedly. Last night, it was the team.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7; Stockdale 6, Ehiogu 6, Southgate 7, Queudrue 7; Marinelli 6 (Johnston 5, 66), Ince 6, Mustoe 5, Greening 5; Nemeth 6 (Windass 5, 72), Boksic 7 (Wilson, 86). Substitutes not used: Cooper, Crossley (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen 5; Haas 4, Varga 5, Craddock 6, Gray 6; McAteer 6, McCann 4, Schwarz 5 (Bellion 5, 75), Arca 3; Quinn 6 (Laslandes, 90) Phillips 6. Substitutes not used: Thome, Williams, Macho (gk).

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn) 8.