I HATE the Wear Tyne derby.
It’s the first set of fixtures I look for when they come out, but mainly to see how far apart they are and how long it is until the first one. The sick feeling in the stomach that exists in the build-up is something that’s never subsided over my years supporting Sunderland.
It’s a nagging feeling, like I’ve forgotten something really important, a feeling of dread.
Yet again, we’re faced with a derby fixture that could be season defining. Under Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet, we managed to get unlikely and incredible victories. Drama, spectacular goals, Jozy Altidore having a good game; they had everything.
On Easter Sunday, Sunderland need to begin rolling the boulder away from their increasingly dank tomb of disappointment and breathe life into their season.
Dick Advocaat has had the chance to take a good look at the squad. He’s also had a bit more time to try to influence the players with his tactical requirements. We might well see a front three of sorts like we did at West Ham, but it will be interesting to see if we continue with the long ball approach deployed at the Boleyn Ground.
Advocaat spoke about Sunderland playing ‘nicer football’ this week, but re-emphasised his insistence for commitment on the pitch. To me, that’s the bare minimum.
At the same time it’s nice to hear a manager that wants his players to train as they play and give him something to think about when it comes to picking a side.
We’ll need that commitment come kick off. We’ve seen time and time again if you give an inch in this game, then the opposition will take a mile.
Lose the battle early on and it’s very difficult to get a foothold in the match.
If it all starts to flow in your direction then you could be in for a long afternoon.
The players that went away for the break will want to get stuck in and state their own cases for inclusion.
Steven Fletcher should be brimming with confidence, even though his hat-trick came against the weakest of opponents.
A real positive surrounding the game is the kick off time and date of the fixture.
It gives supporters the respect they deserve. We’re not animals and as we saw at St James’ Park earlier in the season, if fans are treated like humans then they’ll act like humans.
It would be great to see the night games return down the line too. One step at a time though.
I know I said I hate the derby. At the moment I think we’ll lose, I always do. But on Sunday, as the day draws longer, I’ll get ever more confident and excited.
I’ll feel ever more nauseous and terrified.
But if you ask me what I think the score will be at 3.55pm? 3-0 to Sunderland. Easy.
Ha’way The Lads!
– GARETH BARKER
The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Dick Advocaat. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.