THE FIRST eagerly-awaited derby game of the season is only days away now and for everybody with Sunderland connections, that’s their only focus.
It’s slightly different for Newcastle as they still have an important cup tie to play at Spurs tomorrow night, and that could give Sunderland a slight advantage.
Newcastle might be above Sunderland in the league table, but I don’t see a great deal between the two teams.
Sunderland’s more favourable preparation just might make the difference in a tight game.
These fixtures are like no other; everything is highlighted and they are a big test for the players mentally, as well as physically.
As Sunderland have won their last two games at St James’s, and the one at the Stadium of Light, they know what’s needed and should have a psychological advantage over a Newcastle team that will be under immense pressure from their fans to reverse those last three derby defeats.
Sunderland should use that to their advantage. Being the away team they don’t have to go chasing the game and the longer it stays goalless, the more likely we are to win it.
Sunderland actually look a better team when the opposition comes at them, as Newcastle will have to do on Sunday, as they can defend deep and play on the break.
Papiss Cisse is the obvious danger, while Moussa Sissoko will also need attention, and it will be fascinating to see how Jack Colback reacts to playing against his old team-mates.
In this fixture last year, Jack scored a rare goal for Sunderland and was a key figure in a comfortable away win.
There will be duels all over the pitch on Sunday and Gus Poyet will be emphasising to his players the importance of them winning their own individual battles with their direct opponent.
In particular, I’m looking forward to watching Lee Cattermole and Cheik Tiote go head-to-head, as both are fierce competitiors who play on the edge. The winner of that clash could have a big say on deciding on who wins the game.
Poyet has won every one of his games against Newcastle as a manager and he will know how important it is to the fans that he maintains that remarkable record.
People say derby games are great to play in because of the passion and the atmosphere, but that’s only true if you get the right result.
In these games, that’s the only thing that matters.