WHEN I was checking out the fixtures on their release in the summer, I never thought for a moment that we would be going into the derby game without a single win to our name and with just one solitary point.
Even though derbies are a one-off and anything can happen, that is desperate form to take into any football game.
The one good thing about having our rivals next up is that if we want to kick-start our season, and turn things around, then a win against Newcastle is the perfect way to do it, far more than a win against any other opposition.
It would send the morale of the fans soaring and would give them something to feel good about in a season which up to now has given absolutely nothing.
Derby games by their very nature are unpredictable and are not always like the last one at St James’s, which was so memorable for us.
Often they don’t live up to the hype, with the result being the only thing that matters and you can never tell how the pressure and tension will affect certain players.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s goals in Sunday’s game, quite simply because both teams have leaked so many this season.
We have the worst defensive record in the league and Newcastle’s is nothing to write home about either.
I can just imagine the forwards of both teams looking at those defensive statistics and relishing the challenge and expecting plenty of opportunities.
It’s ESSENTIAL we start the game well on Sunday, as far too often in recent home derbies we have started slowly and sluggishly and handed the initiative to Newcastle and because of that we’ve ended up chasing the game.
A good start sets the tone, creates momentum and gets the crowd in a positive mood and we desperately need this to happen, especially with the players’ confidence being so fragile at this time.
Every time a derby game comes around, it is built up as the most important one for years but you can’t argue against that for this one.
In our perilous position, this is a game we can’t afford to lose.
We really can’t afford to draw either, as only a victory will give us any confidence of getting out of trouble.
The players have got to take responsibility now.
They got their wish with the removal of Di Canio and since his departure there has been three Premier League games and three defeats.
They must approach this derby as if it is the biggest game of their lives.
Even at this relatively early stage of the season, Sunday’s derby could be a season-defining game.
There will be no hiding place on Sunday but a win would change the mood, boost confidence and set us up for the rest of the campaign.