How Sam Allardyce dealt with the Tyne-Wear derby in his pre-match press conference

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce
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Startlingly clear signals tend to emanate from Sunderland managers when they face the press in the nervy build-up to the Tyne-Wear derby.

Steve Bruce was riddled by anxiety at proving a point against his boyhood club and it transmitted to his players, who were on the receiving end of a 5-1 spanking.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Paolo Di Canio built the clash up as worth “2,000 games” and spoke of blood, sweat and tears to record victory on enemy territory. It was one of the few occasions when the Italian’s fractious approach was bang on the money.

Current boss Sam Allardyce has experienced a couple of these North East tussles at the Stadium of Light, yet this is his first taste of one at St James’s Park.

Yet the overwhelming impression from Allardyce’s pre-match press conference was one of calm serenity.

At 61, he has seen plenty of these local tussles, including West Ham-Millwall and Burnley-Blackburn, with the latter deceptively fierce.

But Allardyce was noticeably composed and relaxed as he prepared for a derby which will have huge repercussions on the relegation battle - and it’s a message he’s been attempting to transmit to his players.

“I have had to calm them down a bit more than anything else,” he said.

“The approach from me will be not to over-emphasise the importance of the game.

“I don’t want to give them too much in terms of how we go about it tactically, because that might pass on some anxiety and it might seem that I’m overloading them with information.

“You have to hit the right balance mentally, tactically, and technically to get them ready.

“Physically, they can’t be any fitter than they are.

“What wins you the game is the mental side, usually. Using your brain to make the right decisions at the right times.”

That emphasis on being mentally fresh for the encounter has seen Allardyce try to keep Sunderland’s schedule as normal as possible in the two weeks since their last Premier League outing at Southampton.

Players were even granted time-off last weekend, in contrast to new Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, who has overseen double training sessions since succeeding Steve McClaren.

Allardyce: “We’ve had the entire week to get ready for Newcastle, so I thought, do I over-play it? No.

“We’ve followed the same lines as we did against Southampton.

“Newcastle are different and it’s a local derby, so there are certain elements that we change.

“But my job has been about emotional control; being mentally right to handle the atmosphere and the pressure of this game and delivering our best performance.

“The decisions that we make will be the ultimate difference between winning or not.”

Sunderland have handled the white-hot atmosphere of the derby far better over recent seasons after a record six successive victories and a pair of draws prior to that stunning run.

But Allardyce has brushed off the impact that recent history will have on the encounter.

With two of the relegation rivals facing each other in a pivotal basement battle, Allardyce says this weekend’s encounter revolves around who copes with the double pressure of survival and local bragging rights.

“There won’t be a bigger game between now and the end of the season than this one - for the reasons of the local derby and for three points,” he added.

“Putting it together, it’s the biggest game of the season for us.

“I don’t think past history has got any importance to play in the game.

“A local derby like this means you could lose five on the trot and then still win.

“It’s a one-off game and it’s about who keeps their emotional control the best, who plays better on the day and who takes their opportunities when they arise.

“There are two teams who are desperate to win for themselves and the supporters.”