Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Why both teams are stronger one year on from the Tees-Wear derby

Plenty has changed for Sunderland and Middlesbrough since they met a year ago
Plenty has changed for Sunderland and Middlesbrough since they met a year ago

It looked as if things couldn't get much worse for Sunderland.

They were rooted to the bottom of the Championship, three points adrift of safety and without a manager following the dismissal of Simon Grayson.

And to compound matters, they had just been beaten 1-0 by local rivals Middlesbrough - who themselves moved up to fifth in the Championship after victory.

One year on, however, and things have scarcely looked better for the Black Cats in recent years.

While Grayson's successor, Chris Coleman, was unable to fend off relegation from the second tier, his replacement has excelled since taking the reigns in the summer.

MORE: Middlesbrough facing European competition for Swedish youngster

Jack Ross' shrewd summer recruitment, tactical nous and personable demeanour has quickly endeared him to the Stadium of Light faithful and has seen the side climb to second in League One.

Perspective is required, of course, and some would argue that Sunderland's results are to expected given the stature of the club in amongst the rest of their new league.

But there is no god given right for any team to win games in the third tier - Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest have all discovered that in recent years.

So Ross and the club's new ownership deserve credit for engineering such a turnaround and putting the Black Cats in firm contention to earn an immediate return to the Championship.

While the squad that took to the field against Middlesbrough that day had some undoubted individual quality - via the likes of Lewis Grabban, Jonny Williams and others - they were far from a team.

READ: Leeds United preparing a bid for Middlesbrough triallist

Ross' current squad may not have the household names employed by the Black Cats last season, but they have spirit and passion in abundance. This itself leaves the club in a far better place than it was last season.

There is still a long way to go, of course, but the foundations have been well and truly planted at the Stadium of Light.

Down the road at the Riverside Stadium, Tony Pulis is enjoying some similar success - despite the usual gripes - having taken over from former manager Gary Monk last season.

While goals remain a problem for Middlesbrough (with the side having once again failed to score in the 0-0 draw at Stoke City on Saturday), there is plenty for Pulis to be positive about.

Boro's defence, while somewhat leaky last season, has become a well-oiled machine who have scarcely conceded in recent weeks.

MORE: Tony Pulis sends a strong message to Boro striker

Despite their attacking woes, Middlesbrough continue to battle it our for an automatic promotion place as they seek a return to the Premier League.

And it's easy to forget the strength of the Championship - the likes of Leeds United, West Brom and Norwich have all strengthened considerably and spent a considerable sum doing so.

But Middlesbrough are managing to compete with them and, more than that, they are managing to excel in the Championship.

A quick comparison with the side that beat Sunderland suggests notable improvement in personnel. Aiden Flint and Jordan Hugill are improvements on Cyrus Christie and Marvin Johnson.

Things may not have gelled quite yet, but there is certainly cause for optimism at the Riverside Stadium as Pulis continues to push towards the Premier League.