The past 4 weeks have been nothing short of a nightmare for Sunderland. Stuck in the bottom three, without a home win in 2017 (equalling the record of 19 games) and now managerless.
It was a Halloween to forget for players and supporters alike as the Black Cats conceded 3 to bottom side and fellow relegation rivals, Bolton Wanderers. The 3-all result sealed the fate of manager Simon Grayson whose sacking came just minutes after full-time. Chief Executive Martin Bain informed Grayson of the board’s decision before the manager had even made it back to the dressing room to debrief with his players. A club which seems to lack a plan from top to bottom at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess as to who the club will turn to now. The new man in will become the club’s 11th manager in just 8 years.
Results wise, Sunderland kicked off the month with back to back score draws, first at home to QPR then away to an in-form Brentford side. Last weekend’s home game with Bristol City saw Sunderland slump to a 2-1 defeat which could only be followed up by the draw with Bolton. Although Sunderland certainly aren’t cut adrift yet, it looks as though they will have a long hard relegation fight on their hands. Things won’t get any easier as the Black Cats now face a Tees-Wear Derby this weekend.
Just 13 miles north and 32 miles south, things are considerably better. Benitez’s Newcastle look like a well organised Premier League outfit and recent talk of a possible takeover has fans excited at the prospect of Mike Ashley leaving and fresh cash injection from new owners. Middlesbrough are just 1 point off the playoff places and have been buoyed by the goal scoring form of front 2 pairing Martin Braithwaite and Brit Assombalonga.
Middlesbrough responded from behind twice, thanks to goals from Braithwaite and Assombalonga, in their 2-all draw away at Barnsley at the start of the month. The following 1-0 home defeat to Cardiff was slightly unexpected as Garry Monk’s side were frustrated by a stubborn Cardiff outfit set up in typical Neil Warnock fashion. A mid-week trip down to Bournemouth for the 4th round of the EFL Cup saw Garry Monk make a host of changes. The Cherries proved too strong for Middlesbrough, winning 3-1 and progressing through to the quarter finals. 4 days later, Boro put in an improved performance to earn a hard fought 2-0 win at last season’s play-off finalists Reading. Assombalonga was amongst the goals again as Middlesbrough earnt their first win in six games.
The following Tuesday it was back to back victories for Monk’s men courtesy of a 3-1 win at the KCOM stadium. Braithwaite and Assombalonga put Boro 2 up, before Hull’s Grosicki pulled one back, only for Grant Leadbitter to then restore Middlesbrough’s 2-goal lead. This impressive result sees them move up to eighth as we head into November.
Newcastle returned to action post the international break down at St Mary’s against Southampton for what was another Sunday 4pm kick off. This was a game which Newcastle really should have won. Having had their lead chalked off after Manolo Gabbiadini’s strike against the run of play, Newcastle then went straight down the other end and scored. Ayoze Perez finished from an acute angle at the second attempt after Fraser Forster had parried the Spaniards first effort straight back to him. Florian Lejeune’s clumsy challenge on Shane Long inside the area prevented the Magpies from taking all three points as Gabbiadini converted the resultant spot kick to make it 2 a piece.
The home game with Crystal Palace was a smash and grab victory for Newcastle. With the game seemingly heading for a nil-all draw, substitute Mikel Merino rose highest to bundle home a slightly fortuitous header from Ritchie’s corner. Next up was a tough looking trip to Turf Moor to face a Burnley side just one point behind Newcastle. Both sides set up with an emphasis on not conceding. A mistake in the final third proved to be the only difference between the 2 sides. Perez was shrugged off the ball and from the resulting attack, unmarked Jeff Hendrick was able to finish from close range into the empty net. This was just the 2nd defeat in 8 games for Newcastle. Next up is Bournemouth at home- a winnable looking fixture.
Words: Caspar de Wesselow