A league within a league resumes on Monday when Sunderland entertain Middlesbrough at Roker Park. Passion for football in England is no greater than it is in the North East, an area which has produced many of the nation's greatest players. And when Sunderland joined Newcastle United and Middlesbrough in the top flight for the current campaign, interest reached fever pitch. The three-team North East Premiership kicked off at Roker Park last month with a 2-1 victory for Newcastle over Sunderland and round two will take place at the same stadium on Monday. Hosts Sunderland stand 12th in the table with nine points from eight matches but have scored only six goals - four of them in an early-season 4-1 victory away to Nottingham Forest. They have conceded only six, however, making the Roker defence the tightest in the top flight, alongside Liverpool and Manchester United. The cornerstones of the Roker rearguard are Swansea-born Welsh international Andy Melville, who moved to Sunderland from Oxford United in 1993, and England Under-21 cap Richard Ord, a local lad who has been in the first team squad for around eight years yet is still only 26. Sunderland's record signing is Republic of Ireland international Niall Quinn, top scorer this season with three goals in league and cup since his GBP1.3 million move from Manchester City. Sunderland manager Peter Reid is hoping to boost his strikeforce and has shown interest in Norwich City's Dublin-born forward Keith O'Neill, 20.