Garry Monk has again expressed sympathy for sacked Simon Grayson and believes the former Sunderland manager was treated harshly.
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The two sides meet on Sunday at the Riverside (KO 12.15pm) but Sunderland will have joint caretakers Billy McKinlay and Robbie Stockdale in charge for the game after Grayson was sacked within minutes of the 3-3 draw with Bolton Wanderers.
Boro boss Monk described the decision as "mind-boggling" in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's draw and he was asked about Grayson's departure again ahead of the Tees-Wear derby.
Monk said: "As someone I know well, personally, I understand how difficult this job is and the pressures that comes with it and how hard managers work.
"Simon is one of the best at that. When you see a fellow colleague lose his job when you feel he was the right man to do it, yes I felt it was harsh.
"They have a very good squad, experienced players. You do think they should be higher than they are but they are where they are.
"At the end of the day it was expressing sympathy for Simon. He is a very good manager at this level and would have done a good job. Every manager needs time. He didn't get that.
"That isn't my focus though, my focus is on us and this game.
"[Their league position] is nothing to do with me.
"In Simon's case I wanted him to do well and feel given time he would have done well. I am just focused on Middlesbrough and what goes through our games.
"We want to give the fans a performance, a derby win is the ultimate and to continue a run of winning games. We want to show that fight and determination on our home turf.
"They will want to respond from what has been a difficult spell for them," added Monk.
Sunderland are third bottom heading into the Riverside clash, hosts Boro up in eighth after successive league wins.
Monk added: "We understand the magnitude of the game, especially to our fans. A derby will always be a derby. It is difficult in terms of preparation whether they bring something new so the key is to focus on ourselves, we have been doing that from the start and especially the last two games.
"We expect a really difficult game. Form books very often go out the window. They will come here and fight, we have to match that. We are at our ground, a full house, we want to continue the run from these two wins.
"There is a lot at stake for both teams but we want to make sure our fight is stronger than theirs."
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough striker Rudy Gestede will be back in full training within the international fortnight following a freak injury.
The forward hasn’t featured for Boro since August after requiring surgery on a bleed in his leg sustained during a training session but Monk has confirmed he is closing in on a return.
Monk said: "Rudy is back out on the grass, which is good.
"We hope he will train during the international break. It was a freak injury and he has been very unfortunate but the medical staff have done a very good job and he has worked hard.
"We look forward to him being out in full training sometime during the international break."