WHAT a way to prepare for the short trip up the A19.
The Middlesbrough camp must be absolutely brimming with confidence ahead of the crunch-clash with the Mackems - and we have every right to be!
Four wins on the bounce in the impossible-to-be-consistent Championship has launched the Mogganaut into joint second.
League position means very little at this time of the year, granted, look no further than ourselves last year as an example of that.
But be under no illusion, this is a different Boro team to the one of last year.
Saturday’s rousing comeback against Bolton, who for the record have the best substitutes bench I have seen in the Championship, was the most impressive of our mini-run so far.
A team full of Premier League players was dismantled in a stirring second-half performance full of pace and power.
Josh McEachran showed his sheer class running the game from the middle and big Ishmael Miller had his finest game in a Boro shirt.
And of course the continued impressive return of once-forgotten man Scott McDonald, who turned the game with two goals any poacher would have been proud of.
Next up - Sunderland.
Mowbray has rested players in the previous rounds, giving ‘the squad’ the chance to stake a claim.
I would be very surprised if that happened this time around.
The league is the bread and butter, we all know that, but a derby game is a derby game regardless of the competition or circumstances.
Barry Robson ran the show in the Stadium of Light last year only to give away a silly goal and cost us a much-deserved win in the FA cup.
Sunderland are favourites, obviously, but looked uninspiring and second best in last week’s derby.
Through the footballing law of inevitability, Adam Johnson will most probably score. Equally Lee Cattermole will most probably be sent off.
The Boro are in with a chance.
If we can keep the run going, fantastic - we’ll happily march on.
If we fall short, then it’s back to the bread and butter - the priority.
Up the Boro.
- Dominic Shaw