Who cares about the Manchester derby, Spurs vs. Arsenal or whatever, this is a huge game, and the North East media have been finding new angles for this clash.
Obviously the Black Cats want to win, badly, and it is the biggest away game of the season, but we are on a bad run in Tyne-Wear derbies, with only 1 win in the last 14, courtesy of Richardson’s free kick a couple of years ago at the SSOL. The supporters' memories are long and we will never forget those two 2-1 wins at St. James’ under Peter Reid in 1999 and 2000, but Sunderland lost this season's first encounter against Newcastle by a single goal at the Stadium of Light back in August.
This is Martin O'Neill's first taste of the Black Cats’ biggest game, but the Northern Irishman can draw from experience of derby rivalry from his last two jobs. At Villa he won 4 out of 4 against Birmingham. In 27 Glasgow games vs. Rangers his side won twice as many as they lost in 24 matches.
He said “I’ve experienced an awful lot of derbies, both as a player and as a manager, and in particular a very big derby in world football up in Glasgow between Celtic and Rangers,” said O’Neill. “I know that to some Celtic supporters, winning the derby was the be-all and end-all – beating Rangers meant more than whether or not you won the league to a very small minority of supporters.
“I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, but I do understand the passion of the derby rivalry. And I know it will be exactly the same on Sunday. It’s a massive game and it’s one I am looking forward to. It’s a ferocious derby and I’m sure it will be played at a great pace. We’re away from home, which makes it difficult, but we have to be ready for it. And if we perform as strongly as we can, of course we can win it.”
That 1-5 Halloween horror show at St James’ Park in 2010 will take some shifting from our collective consciousness as Sunderland fans, O’Neill has been made aware of this, and is looking to improve massively this weekend.
He said: “In the game earlier in the season, I’m told Sunderland were all over Newcastle and yet Ryan Taylor’s free-kick turned the game and we lost. And, from talking to people who were involved, the 5-1 defeat last season was seemingly one of those cases of players freezing on the day and not performing. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and make sure we compete.”
We have won 3 away games in the Premiership since O'Neill took over, at QPR, Wigan and Stoke, but this is the one that counts in the fans' eyes. We sort of missed Newcastle when they were gone but they are back and have had a good season so far under Alan Pardew, who has bought well in the transfer market.
A hard game to call, anything can happen, and it will take a brave man to predict the result.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen