Middlesbrough Preview - Home, January 29
IT'S ALMOST derby day this Sunday as Middlesbrough come to town for the F.A Cup 4th round.
'Boro have enjoyed a good first half of the campaign and will doubtless be up for this one with a vociferous sell-out of away support behind them.
This might be a Championship side against a Premier League outfit, but with both sides doing well and the pride of a North East battle at stake, it's not going to be easy.
Tony Mowbray has stripped back his squad at the Riverside through necessity more than anything, relying heavily on the club's excellent academy system.
Home-grown talents such as Matthew Bates, Tony McMahon, Joe Bennett and Jason Steele have been mainstays of the side. Key men under Mowbray's predecessor Gordon Strachan have been moved on one way or another and subsequently the Teeside outfit are moving in the right direction once more.
For Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole, this clash has more about it than most. The 23 year-old midfield enforcer hails from Stockton-on-Tees and made his breakthrough with 'Boro.
Cattermole will also come face-to-face with family friend Bates, the current captain at the Riverside.
'Boro have a former Black Cat amongst their ranks in Julio Arca. The Argentine utility man is of course keenly remembered on Wearside having helped the club scrape through the leaner times in the early stages of this century.
Sadly though, the diminutive playmaker is one of a several players unavailable to Mowbray and thus robbed of a return to the Stadium of Light.
Both Arca and Scottish midfielder Kevin Thomson are suspended whilst Nicky Bailey and Bart Ogbeche are both injured. First choice 'keeper Steele is rated as 'doubtful'.
If England youth cap Steele doesn't make it, youngster Connor Ripley should start between the sticks. Ripley is the son of former Blackburn Rovers winger, Stuart.
Martin O'Neill is without Matt Kilgallon and Nicklas Bendtner whilst Jack Colback is 'doubtful'.
Frazier Campbell played for the reserves during the week against Bolton and could well make the matchday squad for the first time this season following injury.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Vaughan, McClean; Sessegnon; Wickham.
Middlesbrough: Ripley; McMahon, Bates (c), McManus, Bennett; Haroun, Williams, Robson, Zemmama; Emnes & McDonald.
Referee: Mr K Friend