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Mowbray’s boys in blue add to Black Cats’ woe
MIXED FORTUNES: Boro boss Tony Mowbray could be pleased with his team's efforts at the stadium of light
WHEN Middlesbrough met Sunderland in last season’s FA Cup, they demonstrated that the gulf between the Premier League and the Championship isn’t as big as some think. Last night, Boro went one better and gave hope that clubs can bridge the gap many think is impossible.
When last night’s game kicked-off, nine places separated the sides in the football ladder, but the gap counted for little as the boys from the Championship rattled the Premier League club.
In most cases derby games are tough to call, but throw in the added incentive of a place in the quarter-finals of a domestic cup and pretty much anything can happen.
When Boro visited the Stadium of Light in January, few predicted that Tony Mowbray’s squad, assembled on a shoestring budget, would take Martin O’Neill’s squad, laden with internationals, to a replay and extra time.
The Teessiders matched their Premier League opponents pound for pound and it took an extra-time winner from Stephane Sessegnon to separate the sides.
Nine months on, the Teessiders were handed another opportunity to send Sunderland out of a cup competition when they were paired in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup.
Again, they demonstrated how little there is between teams in the bottom half of the Premier League and those challenging for promotion in the Championship.
In the opening 45 minutes, Boro dominated and deserved to take the lead six minutes before the break when Scott McDonald turned in Ishmael Miller’s low cross from the right.
Even a half-time rallying cry from O’Neill couldn’t get Sunderland going and the Premier League side never really looked threatening.
In terms of money, the gulf between the sides is huge and you only have to look back to last summer’s transfer window to see that.
While Mowbray scoured the lower echelons of English football for bargain basement deals and free transfers, Martin O’Neill was splashing out the tidy sum of £20m on two of the Premier League’s most coveted players.
One of those was Easington-born Adam Johnson, who spent several years as a trainee at Boro before earning his big-money move to Manchester City, while Mowbray made the less glamorous signing of ex- Black Cats midfielder Grant Leadbitter on a free transfer.
So far this season, the former Sunderland seasonticket holder has proved a coup for Mowbray in the heart of midfield and he affirmed that once again by dominating Sunderland’s Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole – a player and opponent Leadbitter knows only too well.
Growing up, Leadbitter and Cattermole enjoyed many a tussle playing for their respective academies.
Cattermole’s return from suspension at the weekend boosted the Black Cats, but even he couldn’t match Leadbitter and his midfield partner Nicky Bailey as the boys in the blue corner put their opponents on the floor.
Even towards the end when Boro legs were beginning to tire, they never really looked like surrendering their lead and McDonald’s first-half strike proved enough to put them in the quarter-finals at the expense of the Premier League side with 2,800 Teessiders heading down the A19 far happier than the 32,000 Wearsiders who trudged out of the Stadium of Light with plenty to ponder.