AITOR KARANKA has experienced plenty of marquee occasions during his memorable spell with Middlesbrough thus far.
A final-day ‘winner-takes-all’ promotion showdown, Wembley Championship play-off final and big cup-ties at the likes of Anfield, Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium and Emirates Stadium are right at the top of that particular list.
But another high-profile addition will be added tomorrow with Boro making the short trip up the A19 to the Stadium of Light for the first Tees-Wear league derby there since October, 2008.
Karanka, typically, is keen to focus on the game and not the occasion. While loathe to make predictions, he believes that he has at least ascertained one thing following Boro’s first foray in the Premier League against Stoke City last weekend.
Namely that his team can cope with the top-flight cauldron.
He said: “To play in the Premier League with eight players who had never played in this level against a team (Stoke) who finished ninth last season, a team with a lot of good players, it was difficult.
“I was pleased as even when we were not 100 per cent, the team was consistent and played with a good attitude. We looked good when we played with intensity, it should have been three points but one point was good – and we played well.”
No quarter was given in last weekend’s Riverside opener with the Potters and Karanka is expecting another keenly-fought tussle tomorrow in David Moyes’s first league home game in charge on Wearside.
The Basque added: “Sunderland will be tough to break down. But every game will be difficult. They have good players, with (Jermaine) Defoe up front, and Moyes’s job over the last few weeks means they have improved.
“We have to go there knowing it will be tough, but think about ourselves.”
Injured £12m midfielder Marten de Roon is set to return after the international break, confirmed Boro head coach Karanka.