The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

BACK IN BUSI­NESS: Grant Lead­bit­ter cel­e­brates scor­ing from the spot in the 2-0 win at Read­ing last week

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