Ha'Way Back When: Joey Barton's colourful comments about Sunderland and how he's fared at Stadium of Light
Sunderland are set to enter new territory this weekend as they take on Fleetwood Town for the first time.
With the Cod Army having enjoyed a meteoric rise from the depths of non-league football, Saturday’s clash at the Stadium of Light will be the first chance the two sides have had to lock horns.
It’s sure to be an intriguing afternoon of football but, while Fleetwood themselves will be a unfamiliar foe, their manager has plenty of history with Sunderland.
Former Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton currently presides in the dugout at Highbury - and he’s not been shy about airing his views on Sunderland in the past.
One of his more recent quips on the club came shortly after he was appointed as Fleetwood manager, as he compared Sunderland’s stature in the game to that of the North West outfit.
“It is David v Goliath,” he said.
“If you’d said 10 years ago that Fleetwood would play Sunderland in the league people would probably have laughed in your face.
“It is an incredibly tough environment and you have some massive clubs in League One next season.
“The likes of Sunderland who will still be on a parachute payment structure.”
Referring to Sunderland as ‘Goliath’ is about as complimentary as Barton tends to get - with some of his other Sunderland comments taking on a far more negative tone.
Take his comments on Chris Coleman, for example, with Barton stating on talkSPORT that the former Wales boss needed checking on after taking over in the Stadium of Light hotseat.
“Has anybody seen if he is alright?
“Has anybody checked to see he is all there, if he has had any problems with his mind or lost his senses?”
He was far from positive about ex-Sunderland stopper Simon Mignolet, claiming his upbringing at Sunderland didn’t hand him ‘top class’ pedigree.
He said: “People perhaps forget that he was the Sunderland goalie – it’s not like he’s got top-class pedigree.”
Barton also had Paolo Di Canio is his sights, with the Fleetwood boss targeting the then-Sunderland manager during a charity game at St James’s Park - while making a far from subtle reference to the Magpies’ 5-1 derby win.
“Are the rumours true about the 5under1and manager playing? #couldgetemptiedout,” he tweeted.
Despite these comments, Barton has previously been linked with a switch to Sunderland - but he wasn’t a fan of that idea.
“If I had gone there I would probably have been lynched,” he admitted.
But how is Barton feeling ahead of Saturday’s game?
“I am looking forward to, as a former Newcastle player, testing my tactical wits against the might of Sunderland.”
While this will be Joey Barton’s first time facing the Black Cats as a manager, he has plenty of previous experience of facing Sunderland from his time as a player.
Indeed, he played at the Stadium of Light as recently as January of last year - when he took to the field for the Clarets in an FA Cup Third Round tie against the Black Cats.
It was the midfielder’s first game since signing for the Turf Moor outfit - and his first in almost three months after he served a long-term ban for betting offences.
Jeered throughout, Barton struggled to make a meaningful impact on the game as it ended goalless - although he did pick up a booking.
Previous trips to the Stadium of Light have been far more eventful, though, with Barton hitting the headlines after a trip to Wearside in March 2012.
Barton, then at QPR, was an unused substitute for Rangers after he had been booed off by his own fans only days before.
But his lack of involvement on the field didn’t stop him from goading Sunderland supporters as he made a ‘5-1’ gesture towards the home support - a nod towards his part in Newcastle’s comprehensive victory over the Black Cats in 2010.
His gesture didn’t go unnoticed, however, with reports at the time suggesting that the FA were looking into the incident.
That - coupled with a 3-1 defeat for QPR - made it a trip to forget for Barton.
During his time at Newcastle United, Barton failed to make any tangible impact on the Wear-Tyne derbies he participated in.
While he was a part of the Magpies’ squad that beat the Black Cats 5-1 - as referenced by his earlier mentioned gesture - his trips to the Stadium of Light with Newcastle didn’t tend to result in glowing performances.
Brief cameos and bookings were his main involvement in the clashes. He returns to Wearside with his new-look Fleetwood side.
His start to life in the dugout has been a fairly successful one, with Barton’s side losing just once in the league, having remained unbeaten in League One since opening day.
Sunderland will aim to put a dent in Fleetwood’s early promise as they crank up their own promotion hopes.
It is sure to be an intriguing afternoon.