Wayne Rooney remains confident he can turn things around at Birmingham – but admits the forthcoming international break will be a crucial spell in his tenure at St Andrew’s.

Rooney’s return to English football has hardly gone to plan, with the Blues’ latest 3-1 defeat at Sunderland meaning he has picked up just one point from a possible 15 since taking charge of the club.

Birmingham’s form has nosedived since John Eustace was controversially moved aside last month, but Rooney can see light at the end of the tunnel despite his side’s struggles.

However, he concedes the next two weeks will be crucial as he attempts to improve his players’ fitness levels and get his views across to his squad.

Rooney said: “The opposition we’ve played have been very good teams. The first couple of games, I didn’t think we were good enough, but there was obviously a lot of information we were trying to get across to the players.

“It was a big change in what they’d been doing, and if you look at the last three games, then as a team, I thought there were positives from Southampton, a lot of positives from Ipswich and then certainly positives again here against Sunderland.

“I’ve seen improvements, but we obviously need to start improving the results, and I really believe we will. What I’m seeing in training, and what I’m seeing from the players in matches now, is really positive.

“I think this break will help, just in terms of getting the fitness work into them. That’s important in terms of how I want my team to play. We’re gradually seeing improvement in that, and it’s a good opportunity for us now to really spend some time with the players.”

Rooney was pleased with aspects of his side’s display on Wearside, with Koji Miyoshi’s first-half goal cancelling out an opener from Jobe Bellingham.

However, he was frustrated with the defensive lapses that led to a second-half own goal from Dion Sanderson and a late strike from Sunderland substitute Adil Aouchiche.

He said: “The defending has to be better. We conceded three goals from inside the six-yard box, and that’s a real disappointment.”

Sunderland’s pre-match preparations were disrupted when Dennis Cirkin suffered a hamstring injury during the warm-up, and having promoted Nectarios Traintis to the starting line-up, Tony Mowbray was delighted with the Australian youngster’s performance on his full Championship debut.

The Sunderland boss said: “It’s frustrating with Dennis, obviously, but it’s great for Nectar. I’m delighted that him coming in has worked out so well.

“Nectar’s an amazing young man. I don’t know whether he came over expecting to get straight into Sunderland’s team and play, but with Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard doing so well, he’s had to sit on the sidelines.

“He’s playing with the Under-21s – we sent him to Southampton the other week and he spent seven hours on a bus travelling down there and then seven hours travelling back. Yet he does it all with a smile on his face.

“He knows he’s a young footballer who hopefully has a big future at this club, but he also knows where he is in the pecking order at the moment. For him to get chucked in two minutes before kick-off was amazing for him, and I’m so happy for him because he’s such a nice kid.”

Wayne Rooney’s wait for a first win as Birmingham boss continues after the Blues crashed to a 3-1 defeat to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Rooney’s struggling side battled their way back into the game after conceding an early opener to former Birmingham youngster Jobe Bellingham, with Koji Miyoshi levelling the scores towards the end of the first half.

However, Sunderland were the better side for the majority of the contest, and after Dion Sanderson’s own goal restored the home side’s lead, Adil Aouchiche made the game safe with a close-range finish 14 minutes from time.

Sunderland suffered a pre-match blow when Dennis Cirkin was injured during the warm-up, necessitating the promotion of summer signing Nectarios Triantis to the starting line-up for his first league start since his summer move from Australia.

The last-minute switch did not appear to disrupt the Black Cats, however, as they dominated the early stages with Nazariy Rusyn smashing an 11th-minute shot against the post after turning neatly in the area.

Six minutes later, and the deadlock was broken as Sunderland scored from a set-piece. Jack Clarke swung in a corner from the left, Rusyn helped the ball on with a flicked header, and Bellingham volleyed home from the edge of the six-yard box.

Bellingham left Birmingham to join Sunderland in the summer, and the 18-year-old, who is the younger brother of England and Real Madrid star Jude, almost doubled his tally midway through the first half.

Bellingham swivelled smartly after Patrick Roberts’ corner was allowed to pass deep into the penalty area, but he scuffed his shot and the ball struck the same post that had been hit by Rusyn a few minutes earlier.

Birmingham were struggling at that stage, but the visitors battled their way back into things and gradually began to create chances of their own.

Niall Huggins hacked off his own goal-line to prevent Jay Stansfield from bundling home, but the home defence was breached on the half-hour mark.

Pierre Ekwah conceded possession, and after Stansfield crossed from the right, no one tracked the run of Miyoshi, who swept home a clinical first-time finish.

With the game remaining extremely open, chances continued to flow in the second half.

A brilliant last-ditch tackle from Birmingham defender Emanuel Aiwu prevented Rusyn getting a shot away, but the weight of Sunderland’s pressure told as they regained the lead just before the hour mark.

A short-corner routine ended with Roberts crossing from the right, with full-back Trai Hume keeping the ball alive at the back post as he looped a header over goalkeeper John Ruddy.

Triantis slid in with Aiwu on the goal-line, and after a series of ricochets, the final touch appeared to come off Sanderson before the ball ended up in the back of the net.

Sunderland made the game safe with 14 minutes left as Clarke did brilliantly to create space to slide over a low cross from the left, with substitute Aouchiche breaking ahead of his marker to turn home from close range.

Swansea manager Michael Duff praised the spirit of his players after they hung on for a 0-0 draw with 10 men against Sunderland.

A 30th-minute red card for midfielder Charlie Patino forced the Swans to launch a grim defensive operation.

And despite a second-half Sunderland onslaught, the hosts kept the ball out of their net to earn a gritty point.

It might even have been more had striker Jamal Lowe not seen his penalty saved on the stroke of half-time.

Duff said: “I thought we were magnificent. I think anything that could have gone against us went against us.

“But we played 75 minutes with 10 men against one of the best teams in the league.

“Until the red card we weren’t good enough with the ball, but I want to talk about the spirit, people putting their bodies on the line and giving everything for the shirt.

“And we had the best chance of the game! But that went against us.

“We have talked about togetherness a lot, in the last few weeks, and that proves it.

“They are together.

“We have had a difficult start, so much change in the football club, but the one constant has been the togetherness.

“Supporters want to see that commitment. Any supporter will forgive mistakes if they see players give absolutely everything for the shirt.”

Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray criticised his team’s wastefulness.

It was one-way traffic after Patino left the fray, but the visitors could not find the net despite a glut of territory and possession.

Mowbray said: “We have to score, it’s no good looking at possession stats.

“We have inexperienced strikers and invariably goals are coming from others.

“It was just a frustrating day, we looked like we didn’t know how to score.

“You have to manage the game at the top end of the field.

“Credit to them, they worked hard and defended well, they blocked it and got their bodies in the way.

“But I’m disappointed we couldn’t put the ball in the net.”

Meanwhile, Duff refused to criticise Patino, saying: “We all go through it, it’s part of his learning.

“I don’t think either was a yellow card, but we’ll go through it with him.

“It’s now an opportunity for someone else to come into the team and if they step up he might lose his place.

“But he has been good with us, he has kept his ego in check and doesn’t get ahead of himself.

“If someone writes something nice about him, he doesn’t think he’s made it.

“He will feel like he has let the team down, but he hasn’t. He just made a couple of mistakes.”

Sunderland failed to capitalise on the first-half sending off of Swansea midfielder Charlie Patino as they were held to a 0-0 draw in south Wales.

Patino was red-carded in the 30th minute when his foul on the Black Cats’ Pierre Ekwah earned him a second yellow card.

But while the dismissal of the 20-year-old Arsenal loanee meant Sunderland went on to dominate possession and territory, Tony Mowbray’s side could find no breakthrough.

They will return to the north east bitterly disappointed not to have taken three points, but Michael Duff’s Swans will see it as a point gained after a gritty and organised reaction to Patino’s premature departure.

The first half was open and frenetic – and dominated by Sunderland.

Numerous chances were squandered by Mowbray’s men, but they went in at half-time breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That was a result of Jamal Lowe’s failure to convert a penalty awarded in time added on by referee Robert Madley.

The official ruled Sunderland captain Luke O’Nien had pulled Swans defender Harry Darling to the floor, and pointed to the spot.

But goalkeeper Anthony Patterson’s low save to his right earned Sunderland a reprieve they could not have envisaged they would need.

Had Swansea taken the lead, boss Duff might have opted to employ an all-out nine-men-behind-the-ball operation to protect it.

Instead, his team began the second half looking as vulnerable as they had done all afternoon.

Even before the Patino incident, Sunderland were well on top.

Dan Neil and Jack Clarke gave them attacking width down either flank and Jobe Bellingham’s calm authority in an attacking midfield role kept the home side alert at the back.

A slide-rule pass from 18-year-old Bellingham which put Ukrainian striker Nazariy Rusyn clean through should have been the breakthrough for the Black Cats.

Rusyn wasted the chance, but was joined in his profligacy by Clarke and midfielder Patrick Roberts, who both should have found the net as their team poured forward.

It was no surprise that Sunderland spent much of the second half camped in the Swansea half monopolising possession.

Yet their failure to fashion clear-cut opportunities was jolting.

Full-back Trai Hume forced Swans goalkeeper Carl Rushworth to tip over the bar brilliantly in the 72nd minute and flashed a fierce shot just past the post moments later.

Other than that, there were plenty of triangular passing movements but very little in the way of penetration.

For Swansea, the encounter turned into a grim rearguard action long before the closing stages.

Duff will be proud of his players’ discipline and application, if rueing that the Swans were never realistic winners once Patino had left the fray.

Norwich boss David Wagner insists he can get the struggling Canaries back on track but admits he is unable to say whether he will be given time to turn his side’s fortunes around.

Norwich’s miserable Championship run continued with a 3-1 defeat at Sunderland, meaning Wagner’s side have now won just two of their last 10 games and tumbled to 17th in the table.

The Canaries took the lead at the Stadium of Light through Hwang Ui-jo but Trai Hume and Dan Neil put the home side ahead before the break, before Jack Clarke wrapped up the win for Sunderland in the second half from the spot with his ninth goal of the season.

The defeat means Norwich are now winless in five, and Wagner accepts such form will lead to questions about his future.

“I take responsibility and I have to find solutions to change it,” he said.

“The recent form is not where we want it to be and far away from where we can be and what we’ve shown. This is a big problem for us.”

Asked whether he thinks he will be given time to turn it around, he said: “I understand the question but it is not a question I can answer.”

He did, however, insist he has full belief that he remains the man for the job.

He said: “Yeah, obviously. These are situations you face as a manager which you don’t like but these are challenges that are part of a manager’s life.

“It’s up to me to get this sorted, but how much time or if I get the time, as I said it’s not a question (I can answer).”

To get back to winning ways, Wagner says his side – particularly his senior pros – need to cut out the individual mistakes.

He said: “I think we should not shy away from this. Everyone sees who does the mistakes and at the minute they are my senior pros.

“This hurts double and it costs because these are usually the players you can lean on and give the ball in certain situations, but at the minute it’s where the problem is as well. It’s a good dressing room, they stick together.”

Home boss Tony Mowbray was delighted to end a run of three straight defeats, with Sunderland climbing to seventh in the table.

He said: “I think it was the right result for the way the game went.

“It felt a little bit ‘here we go again’ when they scored, I don’t think they’d been in our half up until that point and yet we’re a goal behind.

“We showed great character to get in front before half-time, with some really good, positive front-foot play. It was important for us, I thought it was harsh on us to have lost three games – there were some okay performances in there.

“You have to take it on the chin when you lose and what was important for us was to keep the confidence up. We showed them a lot of clips of the Leicester game and the rewards of playing on the front foot.

“We did that well today, suffocated them for long spells and it wasn’t really until the last 15 that they asked questions of us, and then in that period we could have scored more goals on the break.”

Sunderland ended a run of three successive Championship defeats with a deserved 3-1 victory over Norwich, who are now winless in their last five games.

Hwang Ui-jo gave Norwich the lead against the run of play just after the midway stage of the first half, but Sunderland hit back with goals from Trai Hume and Dan Neil before the break and the league’s top scorer Jack Clarke secured the victory from the spot with his ninth goal of the season 10 minutes from time.

The victory lifted Sunderland to seventh in the Championship, but Norwich’s tumble continues. David Wagner’s side have now won just one of their last eight games and are down to 17th.

Sunderland dominated from the off and took the game to the Canaries, who have the joint worst defensive record in the Championship.

The Black Cats were bright from the off, bossed the early stages and came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock just before the midway stage of the first half when Clarke’s deflected strike hit the post.

But against the run of play it was Norwich who got their noses in front in controversial fashion. Sunderland expected the assistant to raise his flag when a pass was aimed in the direction of Gabriel Sara, who was clearly offside, but the forward let the ball run to overlapping right-back Kellen Fisher. He cut it back for Hwang to finish clinically into the far corner.

The goal did not knock Sunderland out of their stride and the hosts came roaring back. The deserved equaliser came eight minutes before the break, when Hume’s first-time effort from the edge of the box flashed through a sea of bodies and deflected off Shane Duffy into the far corner.

Sunderland took the lead in the final minute of the first half. The brilliant Clarke weaved through three Norwich defenders on the left before picking out Neil in the box, who calmly lifted the ball over George Long.

Mowbray’s side looked comfortable in the early stages of the second half but Norwich fired a warning just before the hour mark when Christian Fassnacht met a Dimitris Giannoulis cross from the left and headed against the post.

The Canaries had their moments in the second half but the game’s star man Clarke wrapped up the points for Sunderland when he won and scored a penalty on 80 minutes. The winger was tripped by Kenny McLean inside the box and picked himself up to send Long the wrong way.

Enzo Maresca insists Leicester are not the league’s only title candidates despite James Justin’s goal sending them eight points clear at the top of the Sky Bet Championship following a 1-0 win against Sunderland.

Justin was the unlikely hero for the Foxes, heading home Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s corner from the left after 12 minutes to seal the points and an eighth successive league win.

The home side spurned numerous chances to extend their lead as both Stephy Mavididi and Kelechi Iheanacho saw shots come back off a post while Black Cats substitute Abdoullah Ba spurned a glorious chance to equalise late on.

Maresca said: “We are happy but we are not thinking we are the only club in the Championship trying to get promoted.

“In football, the normal thing is to lose more than you win. In this moment we’ve won 12 out of 13, it’s not something normal, the players and the fans deserve to enjoy it after the relegation.

“We know that these records are important if we reach our target, these records show what the players have done and that it is not something normal, but we’re still in October.

“We would like to have the same situation in March and April, it’s fantastic, we are not the only team building to reach the title and in our case we changed 14 or 15 players from last season.

“It was a very difficult game, it’s probably the game I’m most happy with in terms of handling a different kind of game, we were very aggressive and were quite good on the ball.”

Sunderland slipped to a third straight league defeat, although Black Cats boss Tony Mowbray was impressed by his side’s performance and believes opponents Leicester are likely to win the title after their record-breaking start to the campaign.

Mowbray said: “We believed we could come here and win the game, we missed some really good chances. I asked the players to challenge themselves and see if they want to play in the Premier League one day.

“We competed really well, we just lacked the composure required at the top end of the pitch. If that’s the level we play at every week, we’re going to win enough games.

“We just need to improve the end product. We can score goals, we missed some golden chances to put the ball in the net.

“We’re not finishing above Leicester City, I think Leicester will win the league. Burnley had the same amount of points as we do at this stage last season, the results will take care of themselves.

“We put a lot of work into defending set-plays because we’re not a huge team, a free header has cost us two games on the bounce.”

Leicester recorded an eighth successive victory in the league to move eight points clear at the top of the table with a 1-0 win against Sunderland as James Justin’s first-half header proved decisive.

Justin rose highest to head home Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s corner after 12 minutes and secure the points as the full-back scored his first league goal for the club in over two years.

The Foxes hit a post twice in the first half and missed a number of chances to double their lead throughout but did enough to secure a 12th win from 13 league matches to continue their stunning start to the season.

Sunderland have now lost their last three league matches and should have equalised at the death only for Abdoullah Ba to fire over from close range as Tony Mowbray’s side struggled to penetrate the league’s meanest defence.

The Black Cats had the game’s first chance when a cross from the right ran through to Jack Clarke at the back past only for the midfielder to see his shot turned away by the legs of Leicester goalkeeper Mads Hermansen.

However, Leicester broke the deadlock in the 12th minute with their first meaningful effort on goal as Justin leapt unmarked at the near post to head in Dewsbury-Hall’s excellent corner from the left.

The home side went close to a second goal soon after as Foxes winger Stephy Mavididi jinked his way into the box and saw a low shot superbly flicked onto a post by the boot of Sunderland keeper Anthony Patterson.

Leicester hit the woodwork again towards the end of the first half as Kelechi Iheanacho blasted a shot against a post after Wout Faes clipped a delightful pass into Cesare Casadei who in turn nodded the ball into the path of the striker.

Chelsea loanee Casadei then spurned a couple of chances to double Leicester’s lead after the break, first shooting straight at Patterson after the ball fell kindly to him in the box before seeing a low shot tipped behind by the Sunderland keeper soon after.

Casadei turned provider a few minutes later, teeing up Iheanacho for a shot on goal only for the Nigerian to curl an effort a couple of yards wide when one-on-one with Patterson.

Sunderland enjoyed their best spell of the game in the final 20 minutes as Dan Neil curled wide after pouncing on an error from Harry Winks despite having time and space to pick his spot.

The visitors wasted another opening shortly after as Dennis Cirkin fired over from the left edge of the penalty area after some excellent build-up play to create a shooting chance.

However, the Black Cats’ best chance to draw level came in the final few minutes as substitute Ba somehow fired over the crossbar from inside the box with the goal at his mercy and Foxes goalkeeper Hermansen on the floor.

Alex Neil praised his Stoke side for securing a valuable 2-1 victory over his former employers Sunderland, saying “we needed a bit of optimism”.

First Potters league goals for Ryan Mmaee and Luke McNally either side of Jack Clarke’s leveller secured a first home win since August to help Stoke open up a five-point gap above the relegation zone.

Neil, who left Sunderland last year to take over at Stoke, said: “I am really pleased. We needed the win, irrespective of who we were playing against.

“The [Sunderland] fans were always going to fire a few shots at me, which is fine and I get it.

“But for our lads, the club and our supporters, we needed a bit of optimism, a good performance and certainly three points under our belt.”

Mmaee opened the scoring inside seven minutes but Championship top scorer Clarke equalised for high-flying Sunderland moments later.

The hosts regained the lead shortly after the interval when McNally headed home a deep Daniel Johnson corner.

And, despite a late Black Cats onslaught, Stoke held on to earn only their fourth league win of the campaign.

Neil added: “We’re a team very much in transition and that’s frustrating because the nature of the Championship is you need to win games.

“I think the fans understand where we are as a club; you want your club to win games and you want to be successful and push on up the league.

“But I think we need to recognise where we currently are and that we do have great potential.

“Naturally Sunderland piled pressure on at the end and they’re the best games to win when you really need to dig in, so it’s really satisfying.

“At the end of the day, the proof’s in the pudding and you need to do it on the pitch, but I thought against a really good side, we more than matched them.

“We’ve got some tough games coming up so today was a good day for us.”

It was a frustrating afternoon for the visitors, who were denied a fourth successive away league victory as they slipped to sixth in the table.

The best efforts of Clarke and co could not prevent Sunderland from falling to a second defeat in a row, but they remain in the play-offs.

“It was a frustrating day for us and we didn’t start either half well enough,” said boss Tony Mowbray.

“It’s almost like you need a slap before you react to the fight.

“We talked about trying to be ready for the physical confrontation and we fell a little bit short today in that aspect.

“We created enough chances today not to lose the match but we fell below par for the way we play and what we do.

“Not just for the goals; it looks like a blatant handball the first one and then it’s frustrating for any football team to concede from a corner.

“In our defence, we’ve only had one training day with the team that started today so it’s probably understandable that we weren’t at our fluent best.

“We’re a young team; coming to Stoke City is never easy and they have to learn that intensity, aggression and closing down is all part of the game.

“You either stand up to it and play around it or you succumb, and I think we weren’t brave enough.

“Were they hanging on at the end? Maybe. Should we have scored? Yeah, but we didn’t so it goes in the history books as 2-1 and we have to live with it.”

Stoke secured a first home win since August as they battled for a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sunderland.

The Potters took an early lead when the returning Ryan Mmaee opened his Sky Bet Championship goal account following a summer switch from Ferencvaros.

But the hosts’ celebrations were cut short when Jack Clarke levelled soon after with his eighth league goal of the season, climbing to the top of the division’s scoring charts in the process.

The half-time instructions of Alex Neil – the former Black Cats boss – proved key as Stoke regained the lead with Luke McNally’s first goal since March 2022.

And Neil’s Sunderland successor Tony Mowbray was a frustrated figure as the visitors failed to avoid a second defeat in a row despite a late onslaught.

Stoke, who sat two points above the drop zone prior to the fixture, started brightly as they looked to return from the international break with a flourish.

And their early dominance was rewarded inside seven minutes when Mmaee – making a first appearance since August due to injury – notched the opener.

An inviting Mehdi Leris flick-on teed up the Morocco international, who finished with aplomb into the far corner for his first Championship goal.

However, the home side’s lead proved short-lived as Sunderland levelled inside four minutes, mainly thanks to a combination of industry and flair courtesy of Jobe Bellingham.

The 18-year-old won possession back before weaving through the Potters’ defence, with his venomous strike parried by Mark Travers fortuitously into the path of Clarke.

An opportunity of that nature was all too inviting for the red-hot Clarke, who obliged and tapped in to become the division’s top scorer outright.

Wouter Burger nearly followed in the footsteps of team-mate Mmaee in notching his first Stoke league goal, but his ambitious effort from range was tipped over.

And Mmaee himself nearly added a second to his tally after the half-hour mark, only for his goal-bound header to be cleared off the line.

The hosts were nearly architects of their own downfall after some calamitous defending, but the opportunistic Abdoullah Ba could only fire into the side netting.

Despite ending the half fortunate to be level, Stoke returned from the interval with the wind in their sails and a spring in their step.

And Neil’s side reassumed control of the tie when Daniel Johnson’s deep corner delivery was nodded home by on-loan Burnley defender McNally for his first Potters strike.

Mowbray attempted to ignite a Sunderland fightback with a triple change after the hour mark, and his switch nearly yielded an immediate reward.

Substitute Bradley Dack’s enticing set-piece was met by a powerful Daniel Ballard header which cannoned off the post.

The 2,590 travelling Sunderland fans tried to rouse their side with Adil Aouchiche and Clarke going closest to an equaliser, but the Black Cats’ efforts were in vain.

What the papers say

Jude Bellingham could face a fight for his Real Madrid shirt in the future – from his own brother. According to the Daily Mirror, via Spanish outlet El Nacional, scouts from the Bernabeu were sent to watch Sunderland midfielder Jobe Bellingham, 18, play for England Under-19s in Montenegro.

Chelsea fans are facing a further wait before catching a first glimpse of midfielder Romeo Lavia in action for the Blues. The Daily Mail reports the 19-year-old Belgian, signed from Southampton in the summer, will be out until the end of November after injuring an ankle in training.

And Chelsea face losing another young talent with Barcelona tracking Dutch defender Ian Maatsen. The left-back, 21, turned down a summer move to Burnley but having made just one Premier League start this season, Barcelona are watching the situation with his contract ending in the summer, according to The Sun via Catalan outlet Sport.

Manchester City are close to tying up academy graduate Oscar Bobb to a long-term deal, according to the Daily Mirror. The winger, 20, is highly rated by boss Pep Guardiola and is already a senior Norway international.

Social media round-up Players to watch.

Marc Guehi: Manchester United are looking at a possible move for Crystal Palace’s England defender, 23.

Wesley Gassova: Everton are one of several teams being linked with the Brazilian winger, 18, from Corinthian.

Middlesbrough took full advantage of Dan Neil’s first half red card and ran riot after the break to hammer Sunderland 4-0 in the Wear-Tees derby at the Stadium of Light.

Midfielder Neil was sent off for Tony Mowbray’s side deep in first half stoppage time after receiving a second yellow card for dissent, allowing Boro to take complete control.

Former Sunderland youngster Sam Greenwood, who came through the ranks on Wearside before leaving for Arsenal when he was just 16 and later joining Leeds, broke the deadlock on 58 minutes before Matt Crooks added a second goal two minutes later.

The impressive Isaiah Jones scored the third 17 minutes from time before substitute Marcus Forss wrapped up the emphatic victory in the last minute.

After failing to pick up three points in any of the first seven Championship games, Boro – who were widely fancied for promotion before a ball was kicked this season – have now won four league games on the bounce.

Sunderland had won five of their last six games and were first to threaten when Abdoullah Ba fired just over the crossbar inside the first 10 minutes, before Patrick Roberts forced a fine save out of Seny Dieng after a weaving run from the right.

Boro responded well and after Greenwood’s shot was only parried by Anthony Patterson, Josh Coburn hit the outside of the post with the rebound from a tight angle.

The game swung in Boro’s favour deep in first half stoppage time when Neil, who had been booked earlier in the half for a foul on Coburn, was given a second yellow card for dissent. A melee then broke out at half-time after a Coburn foul on Ballard, with Carrick and his coaching team rushing on to the pitch in an effort to calm things down.

Boro had two glorious chances early in the second half as they set about making the most of their numerical advantage. Patterson made a fine save at the feet of Crooks, who looked certain to slot home Jones’ cross from the right. From the resulting corner, Paddy McNair headed over just four yards out.

The goal Boro had threatened arrived 13 minutes after the break. Dael Fry picked out Greenwood inside the box and the 21-year-old lashed beyond Patterson. Just two minutes later the game was all but over as Jones beat Clarke down the right before teeing up Crooks for a tap in.

Jones got the goal he deserved after weaving across the pitch from the right and keeping his cool to slot home with his left foot. And after substitute Latte Lath’s shot was saved by Patterson in the 90th minute, Forss was on hand to score the fourth.

Fuming Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray hit out at the “ridiculous” Dan Neil red card decision that “spoilt the game” after the Black Cats were thumped 4-0 by Middlesbrough in the Wear-Tees derby.

Midfielder Neil was given a second yellow card for dissent in first half stoppage time when the game was goalless.

But having claimed to have been told by referee Jarred Gillett that he’d officiate the game “empathetically”, Mowbray says he was left in shock after claiming Neil was sent off for swearing as he claimed for a foul.

Boro took advantage after the break, with Sam Greenwood, Matt Crooks, Isaiah Jones and substitute Marcus Forss running in four goals as Michael Carrick’s side enjoyed their fourth successive Championship victory.

“I don’t understand the logic of it,” Mowbray said of the Neil decision.

“I found it ridiculous that in the manager’s meeting before the game, which I have to go to, he is saying that he is going to manage the game empathetically. Local derby, 45,000, and he gives a red for gesticulating.

“Dan told me that he’s watched it back, he’s 20 yards away and waved his arms and said that’s an effing foul. That’s the emotion of a young man in a local derby, and he’s not swearing at the referee. I do that when I’m emotional, I don’t swear often but when I’m emotional it can come out.

“Dan is a great kid, he’s competitive. He’s distraught because he thinks he’s let the team down but I don’t think he’s done much wrong. In the context of the game, I don’t think the decision was appropriate.”

“It’s a good game and when the referee talks about empathy before the game, he does talk about gesticulating and not crowding the referee but I don’t feel there is any empathy in showing a red card in the last minute of the first half.

“Surely, he’s got to pull him over and use some empathy? Tell him to calm down, it’s a great game with two teams going at it, 45,000 in the stadium, ‘I’ll have to show you another yellow if you shout or gesticulate more’.

“Where’s the management from the official? I hope that’s not being overly critical, I’m just disappointed because it was a really good first half.”

The game was evenly matched before the sending off but Boro quickly took control after the break and did not look back after Leeds loanee Greenwood – who came through the ranks at Sunderland before joining Arsenal when was 16 – broke the deadlock.

Carrick said: “I’m obviously delighted. It’s a terrific result, a really good day.

“The game changed on a couple of moments but playing against 10 men can be difficult. We were conscious of that and we wanted to almost play like we had the 10 men, that mentality.

“Playing against a team a man down, you have to make the most of the extra space and be clever enough to use it. I thought we did that well.T he boys did that so well.”

Asked for his verdict on the red card decision, Carrick said: “I haven’t got a clue, I don’t know what was said or the incident. It was a surprise to see it. I don’t know what’s gone on, we just had to make the most of it really.”

Middlesbrough took full advantage of Dan Neil’s first half red card and ran riot after the break to hammer Sunderland 4-0 in the Wear-Tees derby at the Stadium of Light.

Midfielder Neil was sent off for Tony Mowbray’s side deep in first half stoppage time after receiving a second yellow card for dissent, allowing Boro to take complete control.

Former Sunderland youngster Sam Greenwood, who came through the ranks on Wearside before leaving for Arsenal when he was just 16 and later joining Leeds, broke the deadlock on 58 minutes before Matt Crooks added a second goal two minutes later.

The impressive Isaiah Jones scored the third 17 minutes from time before substitute Marcus Forss wrapped up the emphatic victory in the last minute.

After failing to pick up three points in any of the first seven Championship games, Boro – who were widely fancied for promotion before a ball was kicked this season – have now won four league games on the bounce.

Sunderland had won five of their last six games and were first to threaten when Abdoullah Ba fired just over the crossbar inside the first 10 minutes, before Patrick Roberts forced a fine save out of Seny Dieng after a weaving run from the right.

Boro responded well and after Greenwood’s shot was only parried by Anthony Patterson, Josh Coburn hit the outside of the post with the rebound from a tight angle.

The game swung in Boro’s favour deep in first half stoppage time when Neil, who had been booked earlier in the half for a foul on Coburn, was given a second yellow card for dissent. A melee then broke out at half-time after a Coburn foul on Ballard, with Carrick and his coaching team rushing on to the pitch in an effort to calm things down.

Boro had two glorious chances early in the second half as they set about making the most of their numerical advantage. Patterson made a fine save at the feet of Crooks, who looked certain to slot home Jones’ cross from the right. From the resulting corner, Paddy McNair headed over just four yards out.

The goal Boro had threatened arrived 13 minutes after the break. Dael Fry picked out Greenwood inside the box and the 21-year-old lashed beyond Patterson. Just two minutes later the game was all but over as Jones beat Clarke down the right before teeing up Crooks for a tap in.

Jones got the goal he deserved after weaving across the pitch from the right and keeping his cool to slot home with his left foot. And after substitute Latte Lath’s shot was saved by Patterson in the 90th minute, Forss was on hand to score the fourth.

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray has challenged his players to keep their impressive run going after a 2-0 win over Watford kept them fourth in the Championship.

Full-back Niall Huggins’ thunderous first goal of his professional career put the Black Cats on course for three points two minutes before half-time.

Abdoullah Ba’s back-post header in the 62nd minute effectively sealed the points before the Hornets had substitute Ryan Andrews sent off for a reckless tackle on Jack Clarke late on.

It was Sunderland’s sixth win in eight matches, leaving them six points off the top two ahead of Saturday’s meeting with neighbours Middlesbrough.

Mowbray said: “I’m delighted for Niall. He has had a tough time in the year or so I’ve been here with injury. Yet he’s had really high moments too.

“We did huff and puff for 45 minutes but we got the job done. I thought the centre-backs were amazing tonight. I’m pleased with them all, we have goals all over the pitch.

“We have to keep going. We kept a clean sheet and got three points.

“The moment normally comes from Jack Clarke or Patrick Roberts, and yet Niall comes up with an amazing goal.

“We preserved what we were doing. Sitting here now with 2-0 feels good. It was a dangerous game.

“I’m not sure Watford’s results warrant the talent they have. I am just pleased we have three points and move on to the next one.”

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