Goalscorers: Tommy Miller 2, Julio Arca 60
Middlesbrough: Brad Jones, Ugo Ehiogu (Massimo Maccarone 37), Gareth Southgate, Emanuel Pogatetz, Abel Xavier, Franck Queudrue, George Boateng, James Morrison (Ray Parlour 64), Fabio Rochemback, Mark Viduka, Yakubu (Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 64)
Sunderland: Kelvin Davis, Gary Breen, Steven Caldwell, Justin Hoyte, Nyron Nosworthy, Julio Arca, Tommy Miller, Dean Whitehead (Liam Lawrence 90), Stephen Elliott (Anthony Le Tallec 84), Christian Bassila, Andy Gray
Referee: Howard Webb, Attendance: 29,583
Sunderland arrived at The Riverside Stadium in September 2005 already looking like a side in big trouble. Having won the Championship title the previous season, Mick McCarthy’s side had registered just a solitary point to their name from their opening six games back in the top-flight. They needed a lift-off against a Boro side that had sent Arsenal packing in their last match on home soil.
The visitors made the dream start after only 90 seconds. Goalkeeper Kelvin Davis played a long goal-kick up the park which unsettled the usually trustworthy Middlesbrough centre-back pairing of Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate. Southgate’s attempt to intercept a flick-on by Andy Gray only fell into the path of Tommy Miller who had made a run into the penalty area. His gamble was rewarded and Miller shot past Brad Jones to put the Wearsiders into an early lead.
Middlesbrough made an instant response and Davis had to be in fine form to deny James Morrison from a counter-attack, before bailing out Christian Bassila after he miskicked badly and Yakubu was denied by the goalkeeper’s legs. The Sunderland centre-backs of Gary Breen and Stephen Caldwell were having one of those days where they were blocking shots and making crucial interceptions at the vital moment.
Boro continued to do the pressing after the break and should have equalised when the Black Cats were down to nine men briefly whilst Nyron Nosworthy and Bassila were both being treated off-the-pitch following a clash of heads. However, Mark Viduka fired a shot wide of the post when the experienced Australian really should have scored. Moments later, Sunderland had the critical second goal but it did come through some form of controversy.
An offside was given against Gray but referee Howard Webb elected to overrule the decision and awarded McCarthy’s side a free-kick for a foul earlier on in the build-up on Miller. Middlesbrough players were unimpressed but Webb stuck to his decision and although there might have been some doubt to whether the correct decision had been made, there was no doubt on the taking of the free-kick. Julio Arca placed it to perfection over the wall and into the net with Jones left stranded.
Middlesbrough ran out of ideas and despite throwing on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Sunderland withstood the long-ball approach to record their first Premier League victory since defeating Liverpool FC in December 2002 – 22 top-flight games ago.
It was a rare highlight for McCarthy and for the team. They claimed just two further victories and were relegated with just 15 points, currently the second worst total in Premier League history. Middlesbrough did beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea at home but inconsistency like this performance against Sunderland was a reason why they only finished 14th in the final standings.