Chris Young’s derby analysis - Draw looks likely, but Newcastle goalkeeper situation doesn’t do Sunderland any harm

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore
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HAPPY dreams; Phillips, Quinn, Gabbiadini, Rowell, Borini.

Nightmares; 5-1, Kelvin Davis calamity, Ryan Taylor.

Ah, nothing beats derby week for sensory overload of pleasure and pain.

Over the last two years, this fixture has been overwhelmingly ecstatic for Sunderland, but that doesn’t lessen the magnitude of Sunday’s encounter.

There have been plenty of those familiar cold sweats and palpitations on Wearside this week.

Sunderland need a first win in seven to vanquish the pattern of draws, while a derby defeat would inevitably prompt intense scrutiny among supporters.

It always does.

But while the Black Cats will be desperate to set a record of four league wins on the bounce against the Magpies, victory is imperative for Newcastle.

All the pressure is on the hosts this weekend.

For all Alan Pardew has turned around Newcastle’s fortunes over recent weeks and made the threat of relegation a distant prospect, the derby remains the noose around his neck.

After Sunderland’s five-game unbeaten run in the derby – the last three of which have been victories – Pardew desperately needs to silence the doubters, particularly after their Capital One Cup quarter-final rout at Tottenham in midweek.

Anything less than victory on Sunday will prompt pelters for Pardew.

Sunderland need to take advantage of that pressure and anxiety.

Newcastle fans will be a bag of nerves heading to St James’s Park.

You could sense it in the air last season and it will be even worse this year.

If Sunderland score first, they will be frantic.

The problems with Newcastle’s goalkeeper don’t help the hosts either.

Presuming the Premier League don’t soften their stance towards Newcastle’s bid for an emergency loan, there will be plenty of butterflies for either Jak Alnwick or Freddie Woodman.

Alnwick’s confidence will hardly be sky-high after his clanger against Spurs, and that will spread to the defence in front of him.

But there is no leniency in this one. Sunderland have to be ruthless towards the rookie.

They have to try their luck with a few pot-shots, block him off from set pieces, and launch crosses down his throat while Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham or Jozy Altidore are lurking.

Which of those strikers will start?

Wickham certainly will, but it depends whether he will be in tandem with Fletcher from a wide role, or if Poyet deals a wild card.

Emanuele Giaccherini is likely to be on the bench at best after three months out, but Ricky Alvarez is pushing hard for only a second Premier League start.

The likelihood is though that Poyet will go back to Wickham on the left and Fletcher centrally.

Re-introducing fit-again Billy Jones in this one may prove too much of a risk as well, even if the defensive-minded full-backs have been as much of a problem as the attacking leniency.

If there is going to be a change, then the likeliest one is Poyet introducing the extra steel of Jack Rodwell in place of Jordi Gomez.

All eyes will be on that midfield area, as Sunderland take on the ghost of Christmas past.

This day was always going to be one which thrust the spotlight on Jack Colback, particularly after his goal and celebration in Sunderland colours last February.

Not that it will necessarily phase Colback.

Sunderland know what they will be up against with the archetypal Steady Eddie.

Colback will doubtless handle the occasion well. Sunderland simply have to ensure former colleagues Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson are more influential in the middle of the park.

But there is a nagging suspicion that they will all cancel each other out.

Post-Southampton, Sunderland have set themselves up to be defensively resilient and hit the opposition on the counter-attack.

That ploy has not corresponded with a flurry of victories, yet the Black Cats have largely been excellent at the back and difficult to beat.

Likewise, since Newcastle overcame the early season jitters which threatened to de-throne Pardew, the Magpies have thrived by playing on the break.

It’s difficult to envisage many goals, albeit Newcastle’s goalkeeper situation doesn’t do Sunderland any harm.

This may be the ultimate cat-and-mouse derby stalemate.

And while another draw would add to Poyet’s frustration levels, it would at least hand Sunderland the moral victory in extending their unbeaten run in this game of games.

Verdict: Draw