GARRY MONK was delighted to round off a successful week with a convincing Tees-Wear derby win over Sunderland, and claims the last three games have proved Middlesbrough are capable of handling whatever is thrown at them in the remainder of the Championship season.

Having showcased some free-flowing counter-attacking play as they recorded back-to-back victories at Reading and Hull, Boro were forced to dig deep for periods of today’s 1-0 win.

Marcus Tavernier fired them into a sixth-minute lead, but with a second goal proving elusive, the Teessiders found themselves relying on their organisation and defensive discipline to claim a third successive victory.

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Darren Randolph made a couple of fine early saves as Sunderland threatened, but with Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson combining effectively at the heart of the back four, and both Grant Leadbitter and Jonny Howson tearing around energetically at the base of midfield, the visitors barely mustered a shot at goal in the whole of the second half.

As a result, Boro were able to claim only their second clean sheet in the last nine league games. When they were promoted under Aitor Karanka two seasons ago, their defensive solidity was one of their key strengths. Finally, there are signs the same could be true under Monk.

“It was a good win in a tough game,” said the Boro boss. “It was never going to be easy, and we’re very happy. We’ve been excellent this week, and I think we’ve shown a bit of everything in the three games.

“I think we’ve warranted the nine points. The period before these three games was a bit of a difficult one for us, we had to show a response and show everyone our quality and how together we are. I don’t think there’s any better way to do that than by winning, and I think anyone who has seen our games this week will have seen the quality and how together we are.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, of course, but I’ve been delighted with the players this week. It’s been a real show of character and quality.”

Today’s result means Boro have now won their last four derby meetings with Sunderland, and their latest success will be especially memorable for Tavernier.

The 18-year-old was making only his third league start, and claimed his first Championship goal as he stole ahead of Billy Jones to convert Martin Braithwaite’s low cross.

Having impressed in the academy set-up last season, Tavernier was promoted into the first-team group in the summer, and is currently keeping Adama Traore, Marvin Johnson and Lewis Baker out of the side.

Boro have a proud recent record of producing home-grown wingers, and while Monk does not want to pile too much pressure on Tavernier’s shoulders at such an early stage of his career, he is confident the youngster has what is required to succeed at the highest level.

“It’s a memory he won’t forget,” said Monk. “It’s his first taste of a derby, and to score the winning goal is something that will live with him forever. He’s a young player trying to make the start of his career, and we’re all delighted for him.

“His contribution over these last few games has been excellent, but he’s been with us all season in terms of his training. It’s always nice when a young lad comes through and can do that, but I think the whole squad have come out and tried to show a real fight.

“He’s got a huge amount of potential, but we’re always mindful with young players that we have to manage them in the right way. He’s a level-headed lad, and he’s got good lads around him as well. The players and staff help him. I don’t envisage any problems with him – he’s a good lad who knows he has to continue working, and get his head down and improve.”

Boro head into the international break in the play-off positions, although Monk insists he has not been paying too much attention to the league table.  

“It’s not about being back in the play-offs,” he said. “We had a difficult period before these last few games. We took a lot of criticism, some of it quite rightly, some of it a little bit over the top if I’m honest. We wanted to show a real response, and we’ve done that in these last three games.”

The international break will see three of Monk’s players lining up against each other, with Braithwaite’s Denmark taking on Randolph and Cyrus Christie’s Republic of Ireland side for a place at the World Cup.

“I can’t have a preference can I,” joked Monk. “I just said to them in the changing room, ‘Good luck to all three of you, and may the best team win’. It’s two against one so maybe that’s a bit unfair on Martin. Good luck to them all – and whatever happens with that, we’ll deal with it when they come back into the building.”