Derby day in the North East, and that generally means lots of patronising comments from southern commentators about ‘passion’, ‘pride’, and about how ‘nothing else matters’ because nothing else exists in either Newcastle or Sunderland except for a football stadium and a set of dreams. They’ll be some kind of panoramic camera work which incorporates the Angel of the North – all the usual local derby cliches that Sky like to use.
I think that’s known as gilding the lily, because squashed under the weight of hyperbole is a vitally important game for both sides.
Newcastle enter the game with a potential triple boost, Tim Krul, Steven Taylor, and Fabricio Coloccini have all trained this week and should all have a decent chance of featuring. The latter two would make a particularly welcome return given that Mike Williamson obviously can’t be trusted in a game of this magnitude. Taylor and Coloccini bring leadership and security, and the visitors need those commodities today.
Sunderland are without Lee Cattermole, as he completed his suspension for his reckless tackle in the Capital One Cup – that might even be considered a good thing, for never was there someone who was more of a liability than Cattermole in a derby atmosphere. Today is no place for a lack of maturity. Both Phil Bardsley and James McClean are fit again, and should be involved.
This will be close, because these two sides are very evenly matched. Newcastle have only kept on clean sheet in 7 Premier League games so far this term, and today they’ll face a Sunderland side with a wholly-decent front four. Steven Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson, and James McClean are all very capable of damaging the visitors, and Johnson and McClean in particular will fancy their chances against Newcastle’s full-backs.
Martin O’Neil will likely pick the same side who were so disappointing at the Etihad Stadium – although, if Bardsley is passed fit, expect Craig Gardner to drop out of the side to make way. Gardner was poor in Manchester, and today is an occasion for a specialised right-back.
The battle in the middle of the pitch is naturally key, with Jack Colback and Seb Larsson facing up to Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye. Those who haven’t watched much of either side will assume that to be a contest Newcastle should win, but Cabaye and Tiote have been underwhelming when they’ve played together this season and the chemistry that existed between them last year hasn’t rematerialised as yet. Plus, Jack Colback is a vastly improved player from previous seasons – Sunderland won’t be getting overrun in this area.
Theoretically, Newcastle probably outweight their hosts with the number of match-winners in their side – Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, and Papiss Cisse have all caused problem for some of the very best sides in the league. Cisse isn’t quite the player he was made out to be last season – and he’s been a bit of a passenger in recent games.
This has score draw written all over it, because neither side have enough quality in defence to keep out the other – go with a four goal tie, or something similar.
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