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Sunderland: Aji Alese was the real hero vs Middlesbrough

Sunderland bounced back from their 3-1 defeat to Swansea last week by beating rivals Middlesbrough 2-0 at the Stadium of Light in the Championship on Sunday.

Amad Diallo missed a glorious chance to open the scoring early on in the match as a dreadful pass out from Zach Steffen presented him with a clear shot on goal, which he sent wide of the far post.

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Ross Stewart then had a goal disallowed for offside as he swept the ball into the top corner after following up on a save from the Boro keeper, only for the linesman to correctly raise his flag.

The first huge moment in the match came in the 49th minute as Dael Fry was shown a straight red card for pulling Stewart down as the striker entered the box.

Sunderland’s centre-forward failed to find the back of the net from the initial strike from the spot but was able to tap the ball into an empty net after Steffen’s parry rebounded straight back to the number 14.

Diallo then made up for his early miss by finishing the game off with ten minutes to go as he sized up Middlesbrough’s defence in the box before brilliantly smashing the ball into the back of the net.

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First up in this quiz about Sunderland's 2022, the Black Cats kicked off the year with a memorable 3-3 draw against which team?

Whilst Stewart and Amad were the matchwinners for the Black Cats with their strikes in the second half, the real hero of the game was left-back Aji Alese as the youngster put in a fantastic performance at the back.

Before coming off with an injury in the 70th minute, with Sunderland winning 1-0, the former West Ham academy gem was crucial to keeping Boro at bay by making a string of vital defensive interventions.

As per Sofascore, the 22-year-old made an eye-catching eight tackles and interceptions, whilst also making two clearances, as he constantly cut out opposition attacks to win the ball back for his side – with no other Sunderland player matching his ten combined tackles, interceptions, and clearances.

Alese won nine of his 12 duels (75%) in total and this shows that the warrior was dominant throughout the game.

He did not allow the opposition’s attackers to outmuscle him in the majority of his battles and this was critical to Sunderland’s clean sheet before his departure from the match, with his superb defending providing the platform for the likes of Diallo and Stewart to win the game.

Mowbray will now be hoping that the full-back’s latest injury setback is not a serious one as his performance on Sunday was a timely reminder of the quality he possesses.