THIS TIME of the season always prompts comparisons between the Wear-Tyne derby and the local rivalries elsewhere on these shores.
Do the Merseyside, Manchester and North London tussles even come anywhere close to the passion, noise and hostility of the North East?
When I signed for the club this was the game I was looking forward to and I was absolutely gutted to miss out on the first oneBilly Jones
Or is the Old Firm – a game Dick Advocaat knows particularly well – the only encounter remotely on the same scale?
While supporters either love or hate the 200mph madness, players relish it, particularly those in the Sunderland camp on the back of four successive derby victories.
In the build-up, Jermain Defoe struggled to contain his excitement at the prospect of making his derby bow this weekend after his January arrival.
And team-mate Billy Jones is similarly enthused at being involved in the fixture for the first time after missing December’s dramatic, late Premier League victory at St James’s Park through injury.
Summer signing Jones has played in Black Country derbies with West Brom against Wolves, but says the rivalry doesn’t even compare to the clash between the two tribes in this part of the world.
“I think everybody knows the Midlands derby is nothing compared to this one,” the full-back told the Echo.
“When I signed for the club this was the game I was looking forward to and I was absolutely gutted to miss out on the first one.
“I’m just really thankful that I’m back involved, hopefully for the remaining eight games, and I’m personally hoping I can make an impact, if selected.
“It would be great to be back involved in a derby game this weekend.”
Victory over Newcastle at a similar stage of the season two years ago proved crucial to Sunderland’s survival hopes after Paolo Di Canio had inherited a side sleepwalking towards the drop.
New head coach Advocaat has faced a similar situation after taking the reins from Gus Poyet, with Sunderland lying a precarious one point above the bottom three and registering just a solitary Premier League victory in 2015.
“Obviously, three points would be massive for us at this point in time,” added the defender, likely to be on the bench for Advocaat’s home debut.
“We’ve had that dominance recently and to make it five on the bounce would be great.
“I’ve been told that’s a record that Newcastle have held for a while – I think they did it 10 years or so ago now.
“Hopefully we can emulate that and carry on that dominance.”
Jones was speaking at the Foundation of Light’s Top Scorers awards this week, where Sunderland’s players rewarded those who had participated with the charity over the last 12 months.