THREADBARE Middlesbrough face a midfield crisis for the looming FA Cup clash with Sunderland after ending a dismal day at Coventry with nine men.
Kevin Thomson and Julio Arca will be suspended for the FA Cup fourth round clash with the Black Cats after seeing red in Boro’s costly 3-1 Championship mauling away at rock-bottom Sky Blues.
Thomson was dismissed for two yellows in the first half, while former Black Cats man Arca picked up a straight red in stoppage time of ailing Boro’s third successive league defeat in January.
But defiant Boro boss Tony Mowbray insists that despite the resulting bans and the injury absence of engine-room lynchpin Nicky Bailey, the Teessiders will travel to the Stadium of Light fired up and looking to cause an upset.
“Yes the suspensions may make things tricky for us, ” admitted the Boro boss. “But whatever team we put out on Sunday will be right up for it. I can guarantee that.
“We’ll be fine. There will be no excuses about suspensions or injuries.
“Whoever gets a shirt will give everything they can for the club, there is no danger of that.
“We will put out the strongest possible team and go there with every intention of getting a positive result.
“It’s a massive game for us. Our supporters expect us to go there and put a performance in and hopefully come away still in the hat for the next round at the end.
“We’ll go there and give it our best shot.”
Boro will have to improve dramatically on a woeful showing at Coventry.
They missed a string of good early chances in a bright start then were rocked as the Sky Blues took the lead on 36 minutes.
Clive Platt flicked on for Gary McSheffrey to play a one-two with the former Boro loanee, then slot home from close range.
The game swung decisively against the visitors as Thomson received a second yellow card before the break.
Coventry got their second on 58 minutes when a free-kick into the Boro box was headed high into the air and, when it dropped, Alex Nimely sent in a looping header that Rhys Williams tried but failed to hook out with an overhead kick.
And with Boro still rocking Coventry scored a third on 62 minutes as Nimely touched on for David Bell to drill in a low ball that clipped Boro skipper Matthew Bates on the shins and flew in.
The Teessiders scored a consolation from Scott McDonald on 66 minutes after Marvin Emnes squared for the Australian to stab home from six yards.
Mowbray confessed afterwards: “It was a miserable day for all concerned.
“We had a decent start but missed some good opportunities and never really got a grip of their physicality up top.
“Even a goal down we still felt confident, but then the sending-off came along and changed everything. It dismantled all our preparation and gave them a boost.”
Mowbray felt Thomson’s dismissal was harsh and stemmed from the unpredictable approach of referee Gary Sutton.
“Some things he let go which were ridiculous, then other things he jumped on. How could anybody read his psychology?” he asked.
“He let everything go for a quarter of an hour then produced two yellow cards for fouls no worse than we’d seen before, so I have every sympathy with Kevin.”
But he accepted there was little defence for Arca. “You cant argue with Julio’s in the current climate,” he said of the Argentinian’s stoppage-time clattering of Clingan. “You see it every week on TV; if you leave the ground with two feet then you are in danger of getting a red card.
“Julio left the ground and even though there was no real danger of hurting the boy the referee was always going to produce a red card in today’s climate.”
COVENTRY: Murphy, Christie, Keogh, Cranie, Hreidarsson, Clingan, Thomas, Deegan (Bell 46), McSheffrey, Nimely, Platt (Eastwood 79). Subs (not used): Dunn, Baker, Wood. Booked: Deegan, Hreidarsson.
Goals: McSheffrey 36, Nimely 57, Bates 64 og.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Coyne, Bennett (McManus 69), Bates, Rhys Williams (Smallwood 70), Hoyte (McMahon 70), Thomson, Haroun, Robson, Arca, McDonald, Emnes. Subs (not used): Ripley, Martin.
Sent Off: Thomson (39), Arca (90). Booked: Thomson, Rhys Williams, Robson. Goal: McDonald 66.
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire). Attendance: 14,112.