Chris Wilder was a relieved man after watching Middlesbrough grind out a 1-0 derby victory at home against Sunderland. Riley McGree’s first-half winner proved enough to lift Boro out of the relegation zone.
McGree struck in the 25th minute, controlling Ryan Giles’ low cross before firing past the Sunderland goalkeeper Anthony Patterson. Boro had begun the match on the front foot, with Patterson clawing away Jonny Howson’s free-kick at his near post and McGree sending the rebound over the bar moments before scoring.
Sunderland struggled to create clear openings in the absence of Ross Stewart, who was injured in the warmup. Boro looked the more likely to score in the second half, with Patterson saving from Rodrigo Muniz and Duncan Watmore. In the end McGree’s strike was enough to earn Boro their second league win of the season.
“One of the things I quite like and I use to the players – there’s no picture on a golf scorecard,” Wilder said afterwards. “I’m not sure that they really grasp what I’m saying, maybe the intelligent ones in our group, which obviously isn’t many – but I say it to the unintelligent ones, which we’ve got quite a few of.”
“It was a really competitive game, chances at both ends,” the manager added. “The two objectives for us tonight were a clean sheet, and that gives you an opportunity of getting a win. We got that clean sheet. However we did it, we just needed to do it.”
The new Sunderland head coach, Tony Mowbray, admitted that Stewart’s late withdrawal threw his pre-game plans into disarray. “We had to try to readjust everything we’d worked on for two or three days in a two-minute chat,” the former Middlesbrough manager said.
“You’re asking the lads to almost forget about all the stuff we’d just done for two days and go and play a different game,” Mowbray added after his side missed the chance to climb back into the top six. “That’s not meant to be an excuse, it’s just the reality of it, losing your talisman who’s scoring the goals and looking a real threat every game.”
Mowbray, who also lost the defender Dennis Cirkin to a second-half hamstring injury, concluded: “It was a tight game. I thought we probably did enough not to lose it, and yet we did.”