Sunderland v Newcastle: Chris Young’s verdict

Wes Brown
Wes Brown
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FOR A midfield pair who worked so well in tandem at Anfield, there was an intriguing split between Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback this week.

During interviews at the Academy of Light, the duo produced polar opposite views on the merits of tackling Newcastle at such an unseasonably early stage of the campaign.

Cattermole, perhaps wary of the effect derby fever had on Sunderland last season, admitted it was a relief that the build-up to tomorrow’s clash has lacked the usual hype, while Colback lamented the premature encounter with the Magpies as he prepares for his first start against the neighbours.

Whichever side you take, the preoccupation with the transfer window and a lack of form on which to base prediction theories, has inevitably taken the shine off the weeks of bile and banter which habitually mark derby season.

The absence of pre-match hype will be an irrelevance by noon tomorrow though.

For both sets of supporters know that derby joy at such a delicate stage of the campaign would instantly fuel an abundance of confidence and hand the victorious manager a back catalogue of brownie points for the inevitable sticky stage of the season.

If common sense were applied, Steve Bruce will be the smug boss earning some closure for last season’s Halloween horror, with Sunderland enjoying a harmonious and productive summer and earning a creditable point at Anfield on the opening day which could easily have been three.

Newcastle likewise began the campaign with an unexpected draw, but the close season has been a rollercoaster, even by St James’s Park standards.

The farcical tour of America, the departure of Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique and the outburst of Joey Barton have resulted in a club, and crucially a dressing room, riddled by discontent.

Alan Pardew’s failure to add a left-back or a striker capable of improving the woeful attacking threat which Newcastle showed against the Gunners, has only reinforced the uncharacteristic lack of derby bravado emanating from Tyneside.

But a wounded animal is a dangerous one and Newcastle still boast players who can hurt Sunderland. Shola Ameobi is transformed into a Black Cat-slaying warrior whenever he faces the Wearsiders, while Barton will similarly thrive on the significance of the derby outcome.

There will be that inevitable flashpoint between Cattermole and Barton that could easily result in either or both receiving their marching orders, but the latter’s quality should never be forgotten, particularly when he is motivated by a hostile environment.

Barton rose to the fore in both encounters against Sunderland last year and Kieran Richardson must be far more disciplined defensively than he was at Liverpool if the Black Cats’ left-back is to contain the deluded darling of the tabloids.

The concern for Newcastle is that Barton’s fellow onfield leaders – Nolan, Andy Carroll and Enrique – have been allowed to leave.

Their replacements may yet turn out to be adequate, yet the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Gabriel Obertan and Demba Ba face a huge culture shock when presented with milliseconds to control and pass the ball before a sea of red and white crashes into them.

Sunderland meanwhile will be wiser from their 5-1 chastening and can point to Wes Brown and Seb Larsson as summer signings who have experienced the heat of battle in the fight for spoils in Manchester and Birmingham.

Bruce would love John O’Shea to be standing with similar poise when the teams meet in the tunnel, yet there is no need to take gambles in a game of such magnitude, even if Richardson’s defending was a worry on Merseyside.

O’Shea is likely to be included on the bench at best, with Bruce poised to stick with his opening day XI.

Those players kept their cool at a raucous Anfield and must again maintain their focus if Sunderland are to avoid last year’s derby no-shows. With Newcastle’s departed leaders not there to distract them, Bruce’s men have every chance.

Verdict: Home win