Sunderland 1 Middlesbrough 2
Sunderland produced a tireless display in their opening home game of the 2016-17 season but it proved to be in vain as Middlesbrough secured a narrow Wear-Tees win.
A bright start was soon dispelled for the Black Cats as Christian Stuani’s screamer silenced the Stadium of Light, with John O’Shea forced off after just 37 minutes to add to the Lads’ injury woes.
Stuani added his second on the stroke of half-time as a well-worked goal put the visitors firmly in control, but the introduction of Jeremain Lens and the grit of Lynden Gooch and Steven Pienaar ensured this was a game that was far from over.
Patrick van Aanholt finally found a way through on 71 minutes as Sunderland laid siege to the Boro backline, but it wasn’t to be and the visitors clung on to ensure the Black Cats are pointless after two games.
David Moyes made three changes to the side which lost 2-1 at Manchester City on the opening day, with his hand somewhat forced due to Younes Kaboul’s departure and a plethora of injuries.
Skipper O’Shea partnered debutant Papy Djilobodji with Paddy McNair starting alongside Jack Rodwell and Gooch in midfield, as Adnan Januzaj made his first start in red and white.
And what a start it was. The on-loan Manchester United man sparkled during the opening stages, popping up on both flanks and beating his opposite number on each and every occasion as the red and white army serenaded the winger.
American Gooch also impressed providing a direct and dangerous outlet on the left, with a host of early crosses testing the Boro backline who also struggled to get to grips with Jermain Defoe’s tenacious movement.
Offering little in terms of attacking threat, a bolt from the navy blues came on 13 minutes as Stuani’s 25-yard rocket silenced the Stadium of Light and handed Boro an unlikely advantage.
Within seconds it could have been two as Gaston Ramirez raced through on goal only to be beaten to the ball by Vito Mannone.
Despite doubling up on Januzaj the visitors were unable to shackle the 21-year-old, and with 24 minutes played he once again led George Friend on a merry dance before skipping to the byline and crossing into the box.
Boro once again cleared before Adam Clayton was cautioned for cynically bringing down the on-loan Manchester United man, with Defoe seeing an effort correctly chalked off for offside as the half-hour mark approached.
Regrouped and recharged, Sunderland were dealt yet another blow before the break as O’Shea became the latest casualty, with the Republic of Ireland defender suffering what looked like a hamstring injury.
And Boro took full advantage with Emilio Nsue’s defence-splitting ball finding Alvaro Negredo who unselfishly picked out Stuani to make it 2-0 at the interval.
With a mountain to climb, Sunderland made a change at the break with Lens replacing McNair in the middle, but it was Gooch who set the tone slamming into a 50-50 challenge before bringing the ball clear and seeing a shot blocked.
Lens followed the American’s example and a superb Cruyff turn opened up the space for him to pick out Januzaj, but the 21-year-old took his eye off the ball and fluffed his lines when he should have given Sunderland a route back into the game.
A flurry of chances followed as van Aanholt was denied by Guzan and Lens rifled wide, while Defoe was denied by a point-blank save soon after as the screw continued to turn.
Sunderland hauled themselves back into the contest with 71 minutes played as the Boro backline was finally breached. Van Aanholt was the scorer following up from close range after Guzan failed to hold Watmore’s powerful drive, and within minutes the Black Cats could have been level as Guzan produced a double-save to deny Januzaj and Donald Love.
Joel Asoro was also introduced hoping to recreate his pre-season heroics against Dijon FCO, but Boro held firm to condemn Sunderland to a second straight defeat.
Sunderland: Mannone, van Aanholt, Djiliobodji, O’Shea (Pienaar 37), McNair (Lens 46), Love, Rodwell, Gooch, Watmore (Asoro 81), Januzaj, Defoe.
Substitutes: Pickford, Khazri, T Robson, J Robson.
Middlesbrough: Guzan, Nsue (Ayala 82), Barragan, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Forshaw, Stuani, Ramirez (Adomah 59), Downing, Negredo (Nugent 90).
Substitutes: Dimi, Baptiste, De Sart, Fischer.