Middlesbrough legend Bernie Slaven has stoked the fires ahead of the Wear-Tees derby at the weekend by claiming Sunderland are ‘cannon fodder’ – and says a draw would be a disaster for the Teessiders.
The former Boro striker is calling on the visitors to be ruthless and finish off the Black Cats as they struggle against relegation.
Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Bolton left Sunderland bottom of the Championship and staring League One in the face.
Slaven, writing in his column for the Teesside Gazette, admitted Boro will have to be wary of a wounded animal, but says it’s a game Tony Pulis’ side should win if they want to finish in the play-offs this season.
Slaven said: “Sunderland are rank bad, the club is in turmoil and they look destined for the drop.
“So Boro have to go there and win. It’s that simple. They have to win.
“A draw would be a disaster against such a poor side with a woeful home record.
“Boro have to win for their own pride and for bragging rights. And they have to win to keep the pressure up on the top six.
“If they have serious play-off ambitions they have to go there and be ruthless and put Sunderland to the sword.
“They may be struggling but Sunderland are wounded and desperate and they look like the walking dead but it is still a derby game so Boro will have to play well.
“To be fair, Boro have a good record this term when it comes to beating the cannon fodder. They have to keep that up.
“But they need to start doing it against the top teams too. They need to do it in the big games and big atmospheres that we’ll see in the run in.
“That’s what we signed these players for.”
Few would disagree with Slaven’s appraisal of Sunderland, but his words could help inspire Chris Coleman’s men ahead of a crucial clash.
Slaven also questioned whether Sunderland – and Newcastle – were a bigger club than Boro, given their lack of success in recent years.
While Sunderland haven’t lifted a trophy since 1973, and Newcastle have to go back to 1969 for their Fairs Cup triumph, Boro won the League Cup in 2004.
Slaven wrote: “Are Sunderland bigger than Boro? Their supporters certainly think so.
“And maybe historically they are. They have a big passionate fanbase and they have won a lot of trophies over the years. They have a lot of history – but it is all in black and white. I heard their last cup win was shown live on Pathe News.
“It is the same with the Geordies. You have to be knocking on a bit now to have actually seen them lift a cup.
“But Boro fans can all remember how fantastic it was winning the Carling Cup at Cardiff. It was brilliant.
“For me big clubs win trophies on a regular basis and none of the clubs in the North-East do that.
“Boro won the Carling Cup in 2004 but it was the first trophy in 128 years. The Mackems last won something in 1973. For the Geordies it was the Fairs Cup in 1969. Their last domestic trophy was in the 1950s.
“That is a poor return for a region that calls itself a hotbed of football.”