Tony Mowbray had this upbeat message in verdict on Sunderland's defeat to Middlesbrough

Tony Mowbray insists he feels the future is bright at Sunderland despite watching his side fall to the first defeat of his tenure against Middlesbrough.

A first-half goal from Riley McGree was enough to secure the three points for the hosts, and there was significant concern for the Black Cats with both Ross Stewart and Dennis Cirkin facing scans to assess the extent of injuries they picked up on the night.

Stewart was forced to withdraw in the warm up, leading to a hasty change of the game plan.

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Mowbray handed a debut to Amad Diallo in the second half and believes he is one of a number of young players who will bring 'exciting times' in the weeks ahead.

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray

Though Middlesbrough dominated the first half, Alex Pritchard missed a big early chance and the general performance against tough opposition was significantly better in the second.

"We had a big chance early on and overall I thought we did enough not to lose it," Mowbray said.

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"I spoke to the players about personality at half time, you've got to have it here. It's a team many people expect to be top six by the end of the season and they could well be.

"I felt as if it was a game we should have got something out of because we grew into it, and we're left frustrated. I thought the young lads stood up to it fairly well, if I'm honest.

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"First half, I felt we had to be braver. If you're going to play Patrick Roberts and Alex Pritchard, you've got to be brave and get the ball through to them on the half turn.

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"We grew into that, and then we made some changes. Young Amad Diallo and Embleton have shown me in training that they're good players.

"Watching these players in training, I think we've got some exciting times ahead. Some of the young players who the supporters haven't seen yet, they're fast and dynamic.

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"They haven't played for five or six weeks so it was too early to put them on the bench, but I think the future looks bright. They've shown they can compete with a team with a lot of pedigree and experienced players. They had chances, I can't deny that, they're good players. Their midfielders break into the box, they have real width and good delivery. They're a dangerous team, but generally I thought we managed it and in the last 20 minutes it was going to be us who scored. It wasn't to be.

"The players have to deal with the adversity of losing a game and bounce back against Millwall on Saturday, that's where you grow character and personality.

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"The Stadium of Light will be bouncing I'm sure and hopefully we can get three points.

"I see enough in these players that they can compete with anyone in this league, and that's a great credit to them and the work that's been done before I got here obviously."

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The visit of Millwall is followed by back-to-back away games against Reading and Watford, a challenging schedule particularly as Stewart and Cirkin seem likely to be absent.