MARTIN O’Neill says his players will set themselves the modest task of reversing recent history tomorrow!
The Black Cats boss is aware that Sunderland have let their fans down in recent seasons in the derby fixture – under-performing shockingly in all three derbies played under Steve Bruce – but the malaise goes back further and they haven’t won on Tyneside in more than a decade.
Reflecting on the size and nature of the game, O’Neill said: “It has always been, historically speaking, one of the biggest derby games, but our record doesn’t seem to be that brilliant recently, so we have to look at improving on that if we can.
“The players need to play much better than they did at West Brom if we are to get anything at all out it this weekend’s game, but they know that.
“We were beaten in the game and deserved to be beaten. It’s unusual for us not to be competing for the whole 90 minutes of a match.
“But when you take it in the wider context, what they’ve given me and Sunderland over the months since I arrived has been fantastic.
“That game was a disappointment, but even the best teams have disappointments – if Manchester United win the league this season for example, they’ll have won it while losing a home game to Blackburn Rovers.
“So bad results do happen, you just have to ensure that they don’t happen too often.”
O’Neill’s focus more than anything will be on ensuring his players perform on the day.
He’s conscious of the importance of the match for the fans, but more conscious of the fact that his players will need to produce every ounce of effort and ability if they are to record a famous victory.
“It’s a very, very big game and one of those games you want to do well in,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly treat this game lightly, nor would I ever be allowed to.
“It’s as big as it gets in this country and we have to be strong and really compete. We need to do better than our best.”
As well as the local bragging rights being at stake, O’Neill points out that Sunderland have to look at the bigger picture, which is getting the club back on track in the Premier League.
“We’ve lost two league games now and the sooner we start getting points back on the board the better,” he pointed out.
“I’m very glad that we’ve got a wee bit of extra time to work on the players because seeing them on Friday for the first team is not great for any game, let alone a derby.
“So I’m glad we have a bit more time. We’ll go there and try to win the game if we can.
“But I’m fully aware of the great season Newcastle have had so far and I know it won’t be easy.
“In the end it can come down to the smallest of things, even a bit of luck – one side hits the post and the ball comes out, the other side counterattacks and it hits the post and goes in – little things like that.”