Inside a brilliant afternoon for Sunderland as Tony Mowbray's side take another major step forward

'By far the greatest team' was ringing out and it was another one of those moments, and there have been a few over the last 12 months, where Sunderland and the Stadium of Light felt like a real place to be.

It looked Premier League and it felt Premier League. On home turf it has generally been a bit stop-start in this Championship season, at times poor play and quite often poor luck. As Tony Mowbray admitted afterwards, this was an atmosphere to evoke the ones he had played in at Roker Park - and it was the job of him and his team to recreate it more often.

The irony was that this moment and this goal had actually arrived at what was arguably Sunderland's worst spell in the game.

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Despite the fact that Middlesbrough had been reduced to ten men the game looked like the one most had expected in the build up. Sunderland were lively and a threat,

Dan Ballard and Edouard Michut going close - but the visitors were pouring forward regularly and putting the home box under real pressure.

The Black Cats were struggling to find ways to make that extra player count, right up until that sweeping move that ended with another glorious Amad-Patrick Roberts collaboration. It might well have been a goal of the season contender, were the list not so lengthy and impressive already.

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It was the first half, though, that really made you sit up and take notice even. Sunderland didn't score but they controlled the contest. Once upon a time Mowbray struggled to get Amad and Roberts into the same team and maintain its balance. Now they pour forward at every opportunity, Dan Neil snapping behind them and in the most obvious evidence of how quickly this team is developing, Trai Hume now regularly drifts infield to join the party. Yes, Tony Mowbray's Sunderland do inverted wing-backs now.

Once upon a time an injury to Corry Evans inside the first ten minutes of the game would have turned the game. Now Michut comes on and takes another step forward, composed and comfortable.

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Amad celebrates his goal against Middlesbrough

Michael Carrick criticised the crucial red card and penalty call after the game but it was more than fair for Mowbray to say that regardless, the end result was the right one. Middlesbrough have been in exceptional form of late but here they were more than matched - you can't help but wonder just what might be possible.

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Of course you have to say that this is life in midtable of the Championship. One bad result and you begin to look over your shoulder, one good result and the top six is within touching distance. Mowbray is constantly at pains to remind you of this, that inconsistency is inevitable and that these are still the early stages of a long journey that will hopefully end up back in the top tier.

He is not under pressure to push this side into the top six right now and yet like everybody else, he can sense that opportunity knocks: "There is always pressure, you put it on yourself because look - I want to win.

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"This is a discussion I have with Kristjaan [Speakman] sometimes, the balance between developing and creating an identity, and winning. I've been a football manager for 20 years and I want to win, I don't just want to develop players and the playing identity.

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"When you pick your team, you have to weigh up these young players who need game time against the fact that Middlesbrough are an experienced side - someone like Jonny Howson knows what he's doing in midfield.

"I've just got to try and get the balance right - when we have good days it's enjoyable. It's a fight I have with myself sometimes, if you look at the Cardiff game here I probably picked the wrong team. I picked a lot of young players and Cardiff got through our midfield, we just looked rank average that day. It takes young players time to put all the pieces together, which is why you need to give them that time to play."

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It had been another turbulent week for Mowbray, who at one stage was looking at a starting XI that featured Jack Clarke as left back. So Aji Alese was hauled into the office and despite having trained just once in a month, he was asked to step in and take a gamble for the team. For 70 minutes he snapped and flew into every challenge, on the ground and off it, until he quite literally had nothing left to give. It's a vignette that explains why this team has so swiftly become so popular: They are talented and they are also spirited.

Alese's inclusion was also something of a reminder that for all the talent in this squad, there remains a lack of depth in some key areas that will make sustaining a tilt at the top ten difficult unless addressed. Sunderland are still confident of doing that, hopeful that when the window shuts they will have defenders back fit, more cover for

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Evans and more competition for Stewart secured in the transfer market.

They will in all likelihood be young players with lots of talent and not a lot of experience. Mowbray will start the process again of working them into the side and building them up to the level that the likes of Neil and Ballard are now reaching with regularity.

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Right now it is still about competing and developing, Mowbray will tell you; it's the message he's been given loud and clear from above.

On days like these, though, everyone in this ground will begin to wonder...