Monsieur Salut writes: just as well I have Boro-supporting relatives. Another Boro fan, exiled down south and writing about another Championship side for a living, had instantly agreed to sit in the Who are You? hot seat only to let us down a few days later (no names as he may have a good excuse). But my nephew Andy Falconer, who did a good job of answering the questions back in November, came up with a pal, Alex Gunn*, who readily stepped into the defector’s shoes … he thinks Boro will win but offers us two consolation prizes: nominating Sunderland for an imaginary ‘loudest away support’ award and saying we’ll scrape 21st place, ie survive …
Salut! Sunderland: what will Pulis bring Boro than Monk couldn’t, are Boro supporters actually thrilled by the appointment and can he lead you back to the Premier and keep you there?
Alex Gunn: under Monk we looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back, making a number of unforced errors which led to us conceding goals and dropping points. I feel like Pulis’ first priority will be to make us solid at the back and feel like we will become a much harder team to beat with the organisation which is a staple of the teams that he manages. I’ve seen some mixed comments online but I think the majority of Boro fans are very pleased to get such an experienced manager at this point in the season and although his brand of football may not be the most entertaining to watch most supporters will be happy as long as the results are positive. I think he can definitely take us back to the Premier League if given enough time and in my opinion is second to only Allardyce when it comes to keeping teams up.
Steve Gibson seems a fair and moderately loyal chairman. What – if not dealt with above – pushed him to a dramatic change with playoffs still within reach?
At the start of the season there was a big buzz around the club with many fans expecting automatic promotion as the minimum for our season, given the financial backing Monk received in the summer I’m sure Steve Gibson expected a lot more from the team than we’ve seen so far and considering he’s stated his admiration of Pulis in the past it was probably a straight forward decision for him to make in order for us to still have a shot at promotion.
People can be blasé about the FA Cup and gates are usually low, especially in early rounds, How much does it matter to you as a supporter and how much should to mean to Pulis?
It’s always nice to see your team go on a cup run and helps to build confidence around the club. As a fan of a team without much major silverware it would be absolutely massive if we were to ever win it, although this season the focus should definitely be on the Championship and I can see Pulis using this as an opportunity to test out some more players who he hasn’t seen play and may well be thinking of moving on in the transfer window this month.
We’d love to be eighth, of course. Did you see our steep decline coming and do you think it’ll get worse before it gets better?
I think it’s fair to say that you’d been flirting with relegation for a few seasons before it finally happened last season and as I understand it the club isn’t in the healthiest of positions behind the scenes with many fans wanting Ellis Short gone, so I did expect you to have a difficult season, although I didn’t seriously consider you to be relegation candidates. I think you probably need a big clear out – on and off the pitch – before things will improve, although if there’s one thing you’ve shown in recent years it’s that you are capable of some big performances when they are absolutely necessary so I’m not sure that things will get much worse before you have at least a small change in fortune.
Who, despite the underachievement, has been OK for you and where are there glaring gaps?
Stewart Downing has been very consistent for us so far this season and has been putting in his best performances since returning to the club in 2015 which has been great to see as his effort has been questioned in the last couple of seasons. Darren Randolph has also looked like a solid signing between the sticks and Howson seems to be growing into the side too. Other than Downing I don’t think our attacking midfielders have done anywhere near well enough so far this season, although I think our priority should be signing another full back as Friend and Christie have both looked shaky at times this season and Fabio looks to be on the way out.
What are your own highs and lows as a Boro supporter?
The highs have to be winning the Carling cup in 2004 as well as two fantastic comebacks in the knockout stages of the 2006 UEFA cup to reach the final. Last season was very hard to swallow after finally returning to the top flight after seven seasons and then never really having a proper go at it.
Too young to have seen Clough of course and maybe ditto for Juninho but who are the men who have given you most pleasure playing for your club?
Growing up watching Yakubu, Viduka and Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink play for us was fantastic with them scoring some really memorable goals for us. Mark Schwarzer was a fantastic keeper for us and a player who I met when I was young and Massimo Maccarone will always be remembered by Boro fans for his diving header which saw us into the final of the UEFA cup.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near Ayresome Park/the Riverside?
Afonso Alves. Shocking striker.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
I’m hopeful that Boro will put a decent string of results together and get into the play off places, think a 5th place finish is possible for us and then anything could happen in the play offs. For Sunderland I think you’ve got a real fight on your hands to stay up this season but I can see you escaping the drop and finishing 21st.
Any other other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans , the city, Coleman?
I think it’s an interesting choice for Coleman as he’s put himself in a position where a disappointing season will see him sacked on his return to club management. Got to say the fans make a lot of noise, probably the loudest away support I’ve seen at the Riverside (even more so than Newcastle).
Is Boro-SAFC a derby? I ran a poll and a comfortable majority said not!
In my view it is, not as fierce as a Sunderland vs Newcastle game but nobody wants to be leaving the Riverside on Saturday with the jeers of the opposition ringing in their ears.
The Niasse question: a long overdue answer to the divers, or still not enough?
It’s definitely a step in the right direction but I don’t think we’ll see really change until the introduction of Video Assistant Referees.
Will you be at the match? What will be the score?
I’ll be there in the South Stand on Saturday, hoping to see an entertaining game and hopefully a 2 -1 Boro win.
Alex Gunn on himself:
I’m 21 and a maths student at Lancaster University. I come from Middlesbrough and been a lifelong fan, can remember back to the 2003-04 season when we won the League cup and always try to get to games when I’m back from uni.
Interview: Colin Randall