Moyes expects relegation fight already
Sunderland 1-2 Middlesbrough
It is only a little over three months since Sunderland's fourth feat of Premier League escapology in a row, but just two games into this campaign David Moyes has already warned supporters to expect the same again.
Middlesbrough ruthlessly exploited their opponents' limitations to secure a first top-flight away win in almost eight years courtesy of contrasting finishes from Cristhian Stuani.
The Uruguay forward may have scored the goal which ultimately sealed Middlesbrough's return to the Premier League, but up until now he has been remarkable more for the unusual spelling of his Christian name than his football.
His effort in the draw against Brighton in May which helped to end Teesside's seven-season exile from the Premier League was the 29-year-old's only goal this year until yesterday's derby.
It left Moyes in little mood to pull his punches. "They're probably right (that we'll be in a relegation battle). That's what they've had for the last four years so why should it change? I don't think we can hide the facts, it'll probably be the case," said the Sunderland manager.
Patrick van Aanholt pulled a goal back with 19 minutes left to paper over significant cracks, but for long spells Moyes cut a forlorn figure on the sideline, no doubt pondering the 10 days before the closure of the transfer window.
To add to their predicament, they lost captain John O'Shea to injury before half-time, forcing them to employ Jack Rodwell in an emergency centre-back role in an area where they are already struggling after selling Younes Kaboul to Watford and with Lamine Kone, who Moyes told to stay away from the Stadium of Light yesterday, keen to move to Everton.
Moyes added: "John O'Shea's just popped his groin, so we'll see how he is.
"We've got some good young players who need a lot of schooling, because I thought we played quite well at times. I didn't think we deserved to be two down at half-time, but after this result we know we have to turn things around."
Stuani, whose return to the Middlesbrough side was surprising, inflicted the killer blow on the stroke of half-time as he rounded off a neat three-man move after substitute Steven Pienaar had surrendered possession on the edge of the Sunderland area.
Adam Forshaw played Alvaro Negredo into the box and, when the Spaniard's deft turn floored Papy Djilobodji, Stuani swept home the inviting cut-back from inside the six-yard box.
The recalled striker had opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a goal of individual brilliance, capitalising on one of several errors from the hapless Djilobodji to send an imperious shot beyond Vito Mannone into the top corner of the net from almost 25 yards.
With substitute Jeremain Lens adding some much-needed urgency to midfield, Sunderland improved after the break, largely because it would have been impossible to get any worse.
It helped that Middlesbrough, like on the opening day against Stoke, had run out of energy and ideas after an hour.
Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Guzan, in for the injured Victor Valdes, saved brilliantly from Van Aanholt, but he was at fault as the Dutchman halved the deficit.
Duncan Watmore burst through to send in a low shot from the edge of the area which the US keeper could only parry and Van Aanholt reacted first to stab home the rebound.