Chris Young: Tyne-Wear derby could be of secondary importance to Norwich showdowns

Lee Cattermole in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
Lee Cattermole in action for Sunderland against Norwich. Picture by FRANK REID
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Preoccupation over the managerial situation at St James’s Park is somewhat hogging the limelight at the expense of the Tyne-Wear derby.

The occupant of the home dug-out for Sunderland’s visit to Tyneside in 10 days’ time remains a deep source of worry on both sides of the North East divide, as such a crucial factor towards deciding the outcome of arguably the biggest derby since 1990.

But the attention on the Newcastle boss will largely be superseded when next week rolls around.

All the billing will suddenly revolve around the ‘Winner Takes All’ derby, where the victors will have taken a giant leap towards beating the drop and the losers already have one foot in the Championship.

The pivotal remaining eight games for both clubs will be overlooked in the aftermath (unless they finish all-square, which would at least spare some humiliation for the Magpies after a record six defeats in a row).

So too, will the credentials of the other relegation candidate, Norwich City.

By the time Sunderland kick-off on Tyneside, Norwich will have had two extra chances to reverse their plight - Manchester City at home this Saturday followed by a trip to West Brom seven days later - yet even in a best-case scenario for the Black Cats, they will only boast a one-point advantage.

It’s not just a Sunderland vs Newcastle straight showdown for a place in next season’s fill-yer-pockets Premier League. Both could easily be languishing in the Championship in a dog-eat-dog promotion race.

An appalling return of just one point from the last nine games has many writing Norwich off, particularly as Alex Neil’s men have proved more adept at self-destruction than either of the North East pair.

Norwich are one of only two sides to lose at Aston Villa, they were 3-1 up against Liverpool and lost 5-4 (despite a last-gasp equaliser) and surrendered a two-goal lead in the final 15 minutes against West Ham last month.

But despite their dire slump, Norwich won’t keep losing forever. There is sufficient talent at Neil’s disposal in the likes of Nathan Redmond, Wes Hoolahan and Steven Naismith to secure that one victory which would suddenly obliterate the mood of dejection surrounding the club.

Perhaps - after only returning to the Premier League last season - there is less pressure on Norwich’s shoulders than Sunderland or Newcastle too.

With more than £100million of television money up for grabs to top flight clubs next season, everyone is feeling the heat.

Yet the Canaries don’t have the same bloated wage bill or years of Premier League existence boasted by both of their relegation rivals.

But the biggest trump card in Norwich’s favour is home advantage against both Newcastle and Sunderland when the pair visit next month.

Carrow Road can be an intimidating place when the volume levels rise in those compact surroundings, with Sunderland succumbing in all three of their Premier League encounters there.

The 2-0 defeat in March, 2014, had Gus Poyet raging in a heated away dressing room afterwards, following a result which looked to have been the final nail in Sunderland’s survival hopes at the time.

For both Sunderland and Newcastle, those trips to Norwich are just as significant as the derby. They’re arguably even bigger.

They are games which will have repercussions for years.

If Norwich make home advantage count and come away with victories from both games, then they will be halfway towards Premier League survival.

A couple of months ago - when only Aston Villa were really cast adrift of a bloated pack at the bottom - it looked like 40 points might be a necessary tally to guarantee safety.

But how many is it now? 36, 37, 38?

If Allardyce was guaranteed just four more wins before the end of the season, then you suspect he’d be doing cartwheels around the Stadium of Light in celebration.

Six points for the hosts from Sunderland and Newcatle’s trips to Carrow Road would leave the Canaries requiring just two wins to beat the drop. That’s doable.

At present, Neil’s side may be the dark-horses in the three-way relegation fight, yet their fate is very much in their own hands.

They wield great power to send both Sunderland and Newcastle plummeting into the Championship.