With Sunderland just one point and two places ahead of fierce rivals Newcastle, ahead of the Toon Army’s trip to Leicester on Monday night, the next instalment of the Tyne-Wear derby is set to be one of the most important yet. Most people are of the opinion that whoever wins this derby, if there is a winner, will stay in the Premier League.
It’s a tough one for both sets of fans to call. Despite winning the previous six clashes against their arch-rivals, most Sunderland fans are never really confident going into a derby. In the coming week you’ll hear comments such as “we can’t make it seven in a row” or “fancy it being the season that we need to beat them when we wont.” If I’m honest, I’m one of these fans. In fact, I’ve been saying it since the four in a row. “We can’t make it four, we can’t make it five, we can’t make it six.” But surely we can’t make it seven?
Newcastle fans, on the other hand, also never go into this fixture with any sort of confidence anymore. They haven’t won a derby since August 2011 and since then have only picked up two draws followed by six consecutive defeats. To add to that, in six consecutive defeats, they have only scored one goal.
For me, this is one of the toughest derbies to call. Newcastle go into this game with no form whatsoever and a new manager in the form of Rafa Benitez, so you would have to put the ball in Sunderland’s court. Their recent derby day form makes it even more likely that the hosts will win.
However, this is the first time the derby has really meant something as important as Premier League survival in a long time, if not ever. And it is for that reason that I think Sunderland may struggle. I understand we have been in great form but I think this might be the time we crumble. For once pundits are making us favourites to stay up and favourites to win the derby, which may not go in our favour. I always think we perform much better when we are the underdog.
In all honesty, you can go round and round in circles trying to predict a derby day outcome and they never usually go the way you expect. For example, who would have expected Sunderland to kick-start the six in a row by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park 3-0 with Paolo Di Canio in charge? To add to that, who expected a further two 3-0 drubbings of the Mags?
I wouldn’t have been so nervous for this game if it wasn’t for Sunderland conceding a sloppy last minute equaliser away to Southampton last weekend. We did the hard part by grabbing a late goal from Jermain Defoe, but for some reason Big Sam then decided to bring on John O’Shea for Jan Kirchhoff, who was having a brilliant game, and ultimately it was the Irishman who gave away the goal. In all fairness to Virgil van Dijk, it was a great finish.
It is sloppy defending like this that worries me for the derby. The Black Cats haven’t kept a clean sheet since November 28, 2015 and I strongly believe we will have to keep one at St James’ Park if we are to win the game.
Two points were dropped away to Southampton and most fans see the draw against Crystal Palace as two points dropped as well. That means we would have been five points clear of Newcastle and four of Norwich, which would have made the derby slightly more enjoyable. Now, it means too much.
I don’t know where I’ll watch the match on Sunday March 20, or if I’ll even watch it at all. I’m just praying that Sunderland avoid defeat. Avoiding defeat keeps us above Newcastle, and hopefully Norwich, and ultimately makes it our own downfall if we do go down. This derby could well be the end of me. If you don’t see any more blogs from me on Shoot it’s probably because I’ve had a heart attack and died watching the match. H’away the lads.