Martin Lindsay previews this weekend’s Premier League Derby.
This weekend sees one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures on the Premier League calendar, as Sunderland host Newcastle United in this season’s Wear-Tyne derby.
Given March’s ill-tempered 1-1 draw at St James’ Park, expect Sunday’s meeting to be as hostile, with the Black Cats seeking only their second win over the Magpies at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland’s record in this fixture following their move from Roker Park doesn’t make pleasant reading, with four draws and four defeats to go with that solitary victory in October 2008.
The corresponding fixture last season proved significant for both clubs. The 1-0 August win for the Magpies was their first of the season and the catalyst for an odds defying campaign. With victory comes defeat though, and it was a result which arguably signalled the beginning of the end for manager Steve Bruce’s tenure on Wearside.
Fourteen months on and much has changed on both sides of the water, as Tyneside and Wearside meet again in one of the biggest rivalries in world football.
One year on
Having found Sunderland in a precarious position upon his arrival as manager, Martin O’Neill has stabilised the Black Cats, providing a platform for them to be in a position to secure a top ten finish this season.
At the beginning of last season Alan Pardew’s Newcastle side were tipped by some as relegation candidates. An opening day 0-0 draw with Arsenal coupled with the 1-0 win on Wearside a week later was only the beginning, as the Magpies proved their doubters wrong by going 11 games unbeaten at the start of the season.
Newcastle’s consistency throughout the campaign earned them fifth spot in the Premier League, a type of season Sunderland will dream of emulating in the future.
This weekend’s meeting brings two teams together who’ve yet to hit top form. Sunderland have only won one of their opening six games, but with four draws find themselves 13th on seven points with a game in hand.
Injuries and a busy fixture schedule may have contributed to Newcastle’s indifferent start, however neither can be used as an excuse as the Magpies knew what they faced after qualifying for Europe last season.
Defeats against Chelsea and Manchester United partner victories over Tottenham and Norwich, with draws against Aston Villa, Everton and Reading making up Newcastle’s nine point tally.
Boss Alan Pardew will be hoping the Stadium of Light can provide Newcastle with their first away win of the season, as it did last term with Ryan Taylor’s free-kick in that 1-0 victory.
The hosts’ main concern will be the absence of suspended captain Lee Cattermole. After receiving the fifth red card of his Sunderland career at MK Dons last month, the 24 year old is serving the final game of a three match suspension.
A victim of his own severe lack of self discipline, Cattermole will have to watch on from the stands on Sunday, with the likes of Jack Colback, Craig Gardner or Sebastian Larsson ready to fill the vacancy he’s left in the middle of midfield.
Stephane Sessegnon will hope to rediscover the form which saw him terrorise Newcastle in the first half of this fixture last season, but it will again be the job of Chieck Tiote to mute the Benin international’s threat.
The Magpies will be praying for the fitness of captain Fabricio Coloccini, but if he remains absent expect fellow Argentine Jonas Gutierrez to continue as skipper.
As a collective, Newcastle and Sunderland have played 13 Premier League games this season, scoring 13 times. However, it’s the men responsible for those goals that will be key in this weekend’s meeting. Only Steven Fletcher (5) has scored in the league for the Black Cats this season, whilst only Hatem Ben Arfa (2) and Premier League top scorer Demba Ba (6) have netted for the Magpies.
But, if history is to repeat itself there could be a third league scorer for Newcastle come the final whistle on Sunday, as Shola Ameobi will likely feature from the bench at some stage.
Newcastle’s long-serving striker has seven goals against Sunderland, just four behind the club’s leading derby scorer Jackie Milburn.
Ameobi’s most recent derby goal came in the 1-1 draw at St James’ Park in March, equalising in injury time to save Ba’s blushes after he’d previously missed a penalty.
The 147th meeting
Sunday provides us with the 147th meeting between these sides, and a real opportunity for both to get their seasons truly underway.
Given Sunderland’s recent derby record a draw won’t be seen as good enough, with the Black Cats fans desperately believing they are due a victory over their nearest rivals.
A point could be viewed as a success for the visitors, if their main objective of taking all three again can’t be accomplished.
It could be whoever starts this derby match the better that prevails, but like last season at St James’ Park, you’d be foolish to bet against Newcastle even if they did fall behind.
Expect a tense and fiery atmosphere on Wearside, as two of the country’s most passionately supported clubs clash, with defeat simply not an option for either.
What do you predict the score will be? Enter a comment below.
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