David Jones column: No bigger game for Sunderland

Adam Johnson turns away to celebrate after scoring  for Sunderland against Newcastle.
Adam Johnson turns away to celebrate after scoring for Sunderland against Newcastle.
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Isn’t it just extraordinary how time and again football throws up the most incredible circumstances?

Just as Sunderland need a victory to save their season; just as the new manager is relishing his first game in charge at the Stadium of Light; the derby looms large on the horizon.

Eight games to go, but none as important as this.

And not just because it’s Newcastle United, but because we’re running out of winnable games.

In effect, the entire 38 game season boils down to 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon.

Win and Sunderland can look forward to the visits of Crystal Palace, Southampton and Leicester with a spring in their step.

Lose and those away games at Stoke, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea will have a foreboding feel to them.

It may not be ‘the biggest game in Sunderland’s history’ as Jamie Redknapp called it last week, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel too much of an exaggeration.

The opposition, the atmosphere, the circumstances, the prime Sunday kick-off time and the Sky Sports cameras ... it truly is momentous.

I didn’t like the way Newcastle zipped the ball around with confidence in the second half of their defeat to Arsenal last time out, but I must say I feel more confident about our chances with Dick Advocaat at the helm.

Why? Because I know he won’t try and overcomplicate the game plan: win the fight, scrap for every ball and get it forward at every opportunity: it might sound archaic, but it’s what the situation demands.

In fact, Advocaat need look no further than his predecessor for inspiration on how to tackle this game.

As you’ll remember, Gus Poyet also lost his first match – away at Swansea – and his second game in charge was the derby at home.

Going into that fixture, Sunderland had a solitary point to show for the first eight games of the season and had they lost that as well there might well have been no way back.

Poyet got his rhetoric spot on all week, ‘we have to win’ was his simple message to the players and fans alike.

He’d talked about delivering a new continental style of play with a more patient possession based approach, but he abandoned any thought of that for this game to focus on a victory at any costs.

Under the Uruguayan, we got used to seeing Sunderland set up with one up front, but that day Poyet went with Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher.

Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback snarled around in central midfield with Seb Larsson and Adam Johnson either side.

The team had a solid no nonsense feel to it and so did the strategy.

History tells us Poyet’s plan worked to perfection as Sunderland’s direct approach unsettled Newcastle’s makeshift back four – which saw a full back playing in central defence – just as it could on Sunday.

Then it was Paul Dummett now it’s Darryl Janmaat – Sunderland have to find out if he has the heart for the battle.

We need Connor Wickham to pick up where he left off at West Ham 10 days ago at his rampaging best; using his physicality to great effect to occupy opposition minds.

We need Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher to be at their sharpest in front of goal, twisting and turning, sniffing out opportunities when Newcastle least expect.

We need Lee Cattermole to return like he’s never been away, cajoling and dictating, snapping into tackles, but staying on the right side of the law.

We need a performance from all 11 men and we need to keep them all on the field in the heat of the battle.

We need to roar them on every last minute, even if we do go behind, because we know there is character in this team and we know they will respond.

Some might call it kick and rush, but I call it aggressive football and it’s what our great club does best ... Haway the Lads.