EVERY MANAGER likes to do things differently on the training ground.
Under Paolo Di Canio, there were long, long cardio sessions, scant regard to working with the ball and twice weekly communal lunches with notoriously strict rules on condiments.
If there wasn’t such a geographical similarity between the pair, Sunderland would probably hand-pick Newcastle as opponents at present and the Magpies would do likewise
Under Gus Poyet, focus shifted to regular short, sharp sessions comprised of 90 intense minutes aimed at replicating the demands of a game-day. Like Di Canio, there was no midweek day off, yet lunch-time was optional.
Under Dick Advocaat, Sunderland’s routine has changed again.
Longer days at the Academy of Light where he has largely focused on off-the-ball work and then sent his players into a post-training gym session, before a daily refuel together in the canteen.
It won’t take long to judge whether Advocaat’s methods are successful or not.
But both Di Canio and Poyet’s regimes brought derby success in some of the most dramatic and spectacular circumstances that Sunderland fans could imagine.
Oh, how, that needs to prove a common theme under Advocaat too.
In fairness, for all Sunderland’s players have dreadfully under-performed in the bread and butter games for far too long now, they have unquestionably responded against Newcastle.
Whatever has and continues to be levelled against the bulk of this squad who have been in place for the last three years, this is a Sunderland dressing room that has grasped the magnitude of this game of games after a decade of derby embarrassment for the Black Cats.
Newcastle, on the other hand, have wilted since April 2013.
It was only nine years ago that the Magpies set a record five wins on the spin in this fixture – a feat Sunderland will hope to match this weekend – and that 5-1 Halloween defeat on Tyneside still sends shivers up the spin.
But since being stung by the first 3-0 triumph under Di Canio, the Magpies have persistently flopped against Sunderland and their fans will be suitably petrified about the prospect of five-in-a-row this weekend, particularly amidst such disgruntlement about the Mike Ashley regime.
Yes, Sunderland have largely been awful since the turn of the year – albeit there were positives in Advocaat’s opening game in charge at West Ham – but Newcastle have not been a great deal better.
If there wasn’t such a geographical similarity between the pair, Sunderland would probably hand-pick Newcastle as opponents at present and the Magpies would do likewise.
This may be the lowest quality derby in years.
But with John Carver’s defensive options beyond breaking point, the visitors are vulnerable and Sunderland have to take advantage of that.
Advocaat has concerns of his own at the back with Wes Brown facing a battle to play again this season.
But Santiago Vergini has largely been better at centre-half than at right-back this season, and has played alongside John O’Shea sufficient times to have an understanding with the captain. Losing Brown should not be a fatal blow to Sunderland’s survival hopes.
Having Lee Cattermole and Newcastle tormentor Adam Johnson available again should be a major boost to those hopes too.
Cattermole will surely come straight back into the side after a two-game ban, while even if Advocaat persists with the trio of Steven Fletcher, Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham up front, Johnson is a potentially devastating option to have on the bench.
As Fabio Borini demonstrated in last season’s corresponding fixture, these games are not averse to late drama where the substitutes prove to be match-winners.
But above all else, triumphing against the nearest and dearest requires character.
When Sunderland were in a similar relegation-threatened, miserable position two years ago, they responded with a Di Canio-inspired masterclass.
When Sunderland had taken just one point from the opening eight games last season, they secured their first Premier League victory of the campaign against the Magpies.
Similar mental strength will be required to overcome a lack of confidence on Sunday.
On the flip side of the coin, Carver will challenge his players to show their bottle in the face of adversity, given Newcastle’s recent derby fortunes, three successive league defeats and a host of key players sidelined.
But while Sunderland’s Magpies Midas touch can’t last forever, it can continue on Sunday.
Forget the bragging rights. Forget the white-hot atmosphere. Forget Jack Colback’s return.
This is a great chance for Sunderland to get a colossal three points en route to Premier League survival.
Verdict: Home win