Sunderland and Newcastle United legends’ verdict on the season’s biggest game

Sunderland's Lee Cattermole and Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye (left) battle for the ball.
Sunderland's Lee Cattermole and Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye (left) battle for the ball.
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WITH derby day almost here, the Echo got two pundits from radio’s long-established Three Legends show to give their thoughts on a massive day for North East football this Sunday.

 Former Roker Park defensive anchorman Richard Ord (pictured) and Newcastle goalscoring idol Supermac Malcolm Macdonald give their honest answers to the questions that matter from Graeme Anderson.

WHO WILL WIN? WHAT WILL THE SCORELINE BE?

RICHARD ORD: Hand on heart? I have got to be honest and say I only see one winner: Newcastle. I watched their game against Liverpool last week and then I watched Sunderland’s against Swansea and if both teams play like they did last Saturday, then Newcastle will win. Push me for a scoreline and I’d say it looks like maybe 2-1 to the Mags.

MALCOLM MACDONALD: The easier question might be: “Who won’t win?” because my answer to that is that Sunderland won’t. I’ve always said that you never knock an away point and it’s a fact of life that you can be the better side away from home yet still struggle to take all three points.

 Whatever happens, I can’t see Sunderland winning and I can’t see Newcastle losing. As an optimist for Tyneside, I would go for a 1-0 win to Newcastle.

WHO ARE THE KEY PLAYERS?

RO: For me, it’s the centre-halves and that’s why I hope that Wes Brown is fit for the game. I know he’s been out for an age and he can’t be at his best if he returns, but he’s a class act and he knows how to defend, how to organise and how to play. Sunderland just don’t defend well enough in games, especially from set-pieces, and he can only help them improve. As for Newcastle, their centre-halves are the key players too. They’re not the best and Sunderland need to get at them.

MM: For me, the key area is the centre of the park and, for that reason, the performances of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote for Newcastle, and Lee Cattermole for Sunderland, are crucial.

 Every player will have to understand they are up against their opposite number in a derby and have to win their battles. But it is in the middle of the park where the key battle almost always is in a derby. Control in a game usually starts from that area and that’s why I see those three players having a big say in the outcome on Sunday.

WHICH MANAGER’S JOB IS THE SAFEST?

RO: I would have to say Alan Pardew’s because they’ve made a quite reasonable start to the season. You feel anything could happen at Sunderland. I look at Sunderland’s next half a dozen fixtures, starting from this weekend, and I wonder where the next point is coming from.

 Given what has happened at the club already, you lose another half dozen games and you never know what position Poyet might be in.

MM: I can see why you ask the question because Alan Pardew has been under an awful lot of pressure this season, even though the team’s position in the league is quite satisfactory. I think we have to accept that last season was a real disappointment for Newcastle, but I also think we have to accept that it is the owner, as well as the manager, who deserves blame.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS DERBY?

RO: It’s massive for Sunderland. The mood is bad enough as it is, but lose this and it will be 10 times worse. It is hard to see Sunderland getting out of the fix they’re in at the bottom of the table, but they will give themselves a glimmer of hope if they win this weekend. If they lose….

MM: It is huge for both sides – not just Sunderland. The importance of it to Sunderland could hardly be more obvious, but don’t underestimate how big it is for Newcastle. There has been turmoil over the manager and turmoil in the dressing room and a derby win does an awful lot to heal the wounds, bring people closer together and give everyone a lift.

WILL THE DI CANIO DERBY – THE FAMOUS 3-0 – BE A BENEFIT OR A DRAWBACK TO YOUR SIDE?

RO: It will be a help. That was a fantastic day, a day no Sunderland fan will ever forget, but, trust me, a day those Sunderland players involved will never forget either.

 And the good thing is that there are still plenty of that team at the club who can use that to give them confidence and focus. They know how much the fans will forgive them what’s gone before, provided they make them proud and win the derby.

MM: I think it’s a benefit to Newcastle because that result pretty much does Alan Pardew’s team talk for him on Sunday. He just has to remind the players how bad that day was and what an opportunity this is to make Sunderland suffer instead.

 When you lose a derby, it’s not just the 90 minutes or the final whistle, it’s the days and weeks afterwards when you have to face the fans. Newcastle players were really hurt by April’s result, so that’s part of their incentive.

WHAT FORMATION SHOULD YOUR TEAM PLAY?

RO: 4-4-2 without a doubt. We’re at home, it’s a derby and it’s a game we must win. I would probably go with Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore up front and look to really test out Newcastle’s suspect central defence. We have to make a strong start to the game and, for me, that means a pair of strikers taking the game to Newcastle.

MM: People talk about Newcastle’s formation being 4-3-3, but it’s not really because, when they don’t have the ball, they drop to 4-5-1 or even 4-6-0. Where they score over Sunderland however, and where Sunderland can’t match them, is breaking forward. When Newcastle get the ball, they get forward very quickly and in numbers. That was something that even caught Liverpool out in Newcastle’s last game and it’s something Sunderland don’t seem capable of doing.

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO IT?

RO: I would be looking forward to it more if there wasn’t so much riding on it and Sunderland hadn’t started the season so badly!

 It’s still a great thing though, the derby. I know that, by the time the game comes around, I’ll be excited and nervous, like I always am, and I’ll be hoping against hope that we can get another derby win, even if the form book isn’t in our favour.

MM: Yes, I am. I always look forward to the derbies because they are such great footballing occasions, regardless of how our respective teams are faring at the time. They’re games you cannot take your eyes off because the outcome is so important.

 I hear people say that foreigners don’t really buy into the occasion, but I dispute that. Anyone who comes to this area is made aware of the derby and they can be just as passionate about it as English players.