PLAYERS ‘LET DOWN SIMON’ HINTS MONK
MIDDLESBROUGH boss Garry Monk has launched a thinlyveiled swipe at Sunderland’s players ahead of today’s derby showdown at the Riverside.
Relegated from the Premier League alongside Boro last season, the Black Cats have won just one game all season.
That dire run prompted the sacking of manager Simon Grayson after just 18 games – a decision Monk called “mindboggling”.
And as the Boro boss prepares to heap more misery on the Mackems, he suggested it is the players – not their manager – who has underperformed.
“I understand how difficult this job is,” said Monk. “The pressures that come with it and how hard you have to work. Simon is one of the best at that, and someone I know personally.
“It’s very sad to see a colleague lose his job, especially when you feel he was the right man to do it.
“Yes, it’s the nature of the business. But I just felt it was harsh. You look at their squad, it’s got quality. They have good, experienced players who should be much higher.
“But they are where they are and Simon has paid the price. Given time, I think Simon would have done a good job. Unfortunately he didn’t get it.”
For Monk, too, the season has hardly been plain sailing. Despite a £40m summer outlay and a club-record signing in striker Britt Assombalonga, the Teessiders won just four of their first 13 games.
Defeat at home to Cardiff a fortnight ago left Monk’s men in the bottom half and even saw questions raised about Boro’s lack of threat.
However, back-to-back wins at Reading and Hull have propelled Boro back into the promotion picture.
“Criticism is part of football,” said Monk,
right, who rejected Sunderland before taking charge at the Riverside in June. “The key is to trust in what you’re doing and make sure that transmits to the players. That’s what we’ve done here.
“Striking that balance between being solid and being a threat is vitally important. We’ve tried that all season, but obviously we haven’t got it quite right.
“The key was to recognise it. The mistakes we were making were quite easy to
amend and credit to the players for seeing that.
“But, as I keep saying, it’s only two games.
“The standard has been set and it’s important we keep striving to improve.”
And for all the chaos engulfing the Stadium of Light, Monk won’t be taking Sunderland’s confidence-shorn players lightly.
“They will come and fight,” he insists. “We expect them to respond to what has been a difficult period – and we’ve got to be ready.
“In terms of preparation, it’s difficult with a new manager. Will they bring anything new? But the way to mitigate that is to focus on ourselves. These last two games, that’s what we’ve done.
“We understand the magnitude of the game, especially to our fans. It brings different elements to any other fixture.
“We’ve got a full house, a confident squad. Now let’s harness that. We’ve had a good week so far. A win would make it a great week.”
BACK IN BUSINESS: Grant Leadbitter celebrates scoring from the spot in the 2-0 win at Reading last week