Middlesbrough gave themselves a massive boost in terms of Premier League survival on Wednesday night, with a single goal from Martin de Roon giving Boro their first league win in 2017 with the 1-0 defeat of local rivals Sunderland.
After starting off slow the Teesside outfit got into the swings early into the contest, and managed to find themselves ahead after nine minutes through de Roon’s effort. The foul count proved to be more entertaining than the shots on goal in the first period, but Stewart Downing and Didier Ndong having their respective efforts but Boro held the lead at the break.
Opportunities were few and far between from both sides in the second period, with the visitors having the better of them through Wahbi Khazri but it was Boro who walked away with the points.
Couldn't ask for a better start
The Riverside Stadium was preparing to hold one of its biggest games of the season with both sides looking to aid their own survival ambitions, but off-field matters took priority before kick-off with the stadium hosting a beautiful tribute for former Boro midfielder Ugo Ehiogu.
Once the whistle had blown Boro found themselves on the ropes against a Sunderland side desperate to make up the ten-point deficit on 17th, but Steve Agnew’s side eased into proceedings and managed to grab themselves an early lead.
It was poor from the visiting side as Adam Clayton punted a simple ball up field, the space between John O’Shea and Billy Jones was easy enough for de Roon to run into with the latter defender playing him onside.
The Dutchman did well to take the ball down on his chest and was quick enough to stab through the rushing Jordan Pickford.
That goal certainly settled Agnew’s side, but Sunderland didn’t seem to be shaken as both had equally good opportunities to add to the scoreline.
David Moyes’ defence once again got their wires crossed and Jones and Jason Denayer were the culprits on this occasion, that allowed Downing clear through on goal with Pickford only to beat but the PFA Young Player of the Year nominee did well to save with his legs.
The Black Cats hadn’t really had decent opportunity up until the 34th minute when N’Dong let one rip from 30 yards, it was a decent effort as stung the palms of Brad Guzan with Jones waiting in the wings for the follow-up but it was onto the roof of the net.
Showing encouraging signs
Something have to give for Sunderland going into this clash with four very winnable games coming up against relegation rivals, and that looked to be on the player’s minds as they came out for the second period as they began to grow in the contest.
Khazri looked to test the waters three minutes after the restart as he lined up the free-kick, the effort was good from the Algerian as he floated it over the wall but Guzan was down well to tip it away to his right
It looked like that Boro were beginning to rest on their laurels slightly, and they were lucky to not fall behind just before the hour mark with Adam Forshaw’s tomfoolery in the area. The pressure in the Boro area was clear but that increased with Forshaw failing to clear the ball on two occasions with the ball in his own goalmouth, but Guzan sent it forward to clear the danger.
The game fell flat from that point onward, but one final chance fell to the home side in extra-time.Forshaw gave it off to Downing who decided to let rip, it was just inches wide but it remains an uphill battle for Boro who will need the minimum of seven points from their final four matches to have a chance.