Apr 11 2013

Match Preview: Newcastle United v Sunderland AFC – 14 April 2013

toonmackemsThe circumstances behind this fixture must be a Mackems worst nightmare! Sunderland going into a ‘derby-of-death’ on the back on a nine game winless run with Newcastle only needing a win to make them safe; whilst defeat for the Black Cats would push them further into the relegation quagmire, it’s a horror that even the newly released Evil Dead movie could never hope to emulate.

At least many Geordies and Mackems have one thing in common – I bet you didn’t expect to see that in print! That being the wish for their local rivals to be relegated; a perverse booby prize that is supposed to somehow compensate for another season without a trophy. However, such myopic fans should be careful what they wish for. For example, few would suggest that Scottish football has benefited from the absence of the Glasgow derby since Rangers banishment to the lower leagues. The Premiership would certainly be poorer without its Tyne & Wear pantomime-villain fixture.

There is always so much at stake – way beyond the six points that the two derby games offer. Steve Bruce always seemed to pass his anxiety onto the Sunderland players resulting in a terrible record that included a 5-1 mauling at Sid James Park and a 0-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light. Martin O’Neill may have gleaned two draws, both with last gasp equalisers, for and against Sunderland, in performances that were as uninspired as his post-match demeanour before his dismissal.

The omens are certainly not good for the Wearsiders, as demonstrated by their recent record in this most volatile and parochial of fixtures:

  • Sunderland have won only one of their last 16 games against Newcastle in a record that reads W1, D7, L8.
  • This will be the 149th game between the clubs in league and cup. Newcastle lead by 53 wins to 46.
  • The last six meetings have produced 6 red cards (5 for Sunderland players) and 28 yellow.

However, Sunderland are not without hope with their first flamboyant foreign Head Coach (manager) in the clubs long history. The Di Canio factor is having a positive influence and we saw tangible evidence of this during the first 45 minutes against the reigning European Champions. Certainly his attack minded 4-2-3-1 formation offered more threat against Chelsea, with Wickham and Sessegnon looking menacing.

Given all the negative press since his appointment it’s easy to overlook that Di Canio achieved the highest ever score when completing his UEFA Coaching Badge. I was also pleasantly surprised to come across the following positive quote:

“I must confess to a liking for the fellow and his approach to the game. …he wears his heart on his sleeve and I like his football philosophy, wanting to play the ball on the ground rather than in the air.”     Sir Alex Ferguson

But then, what does Fergie know about building a successful team…

The Wearsiders will certainly be under dogs with Di Canio not being able to call on his two top goal scorers Fletcher and Gardiner, in addition to Cattermole, Brown (no change there) and a few others. However, the potential absence of Titus Bramble and the uncertainty around Danny Graham starting may be a blessing in disguise, as a poor performance would raise accusations of the ‘Chopra factor’ with their professionalism being called into question due to their Geordie links.

The Black Cats must be hoping that the tired-Toon are knackered following their Thursday night Europa League game against another Stadium of Light based opponent, and run out of steam on Sunday – especially as they have developed a recent and upsetting knack of sorting late goals. Unfortunately, Hatem Ben Arfa is expected to make a shock return against Sunderland and along with Papiss Cisse and Shola Ameobi, who always seems to score against Sunderland, a super-stressful-Sunday beckons.

The two clubs have never played out a goalless draw since the inception of the Premier League, but five of the last nine meetings have ended 1-1. It should be noted that if Sunderland do lose, it won’t result in their relegation. No; such a disaster is achieved over 38 games, not one, and although I would gladly take a draw, Sunderland really do need the three points.

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