Sunday’s derby has been labelled as the biggest for years and with both clubs in desperate trouble, I can’t disagree with that billing.
Sunderland will have had two weeks to prepare, so they must be fresh and well-prepared for a game which at the very least, they can’t afford to lose.
I’m sure Sam Allardyce will tell his players that six-wins-in-a-row won’t mean a thing when the game kicks off on Sunday – that’s for the history books – and he’ll drum in the message to forget October’s derby victory and concentrate every ounce of energy on this one.
But as if the North East derby isn’t huge enough, there’s so many sub-plots to this game to make anybody’s head spin.
Both teams are in real danger of relegation, Big Sam’s returning to the club who axed him after just months in the job and Newcastle are using the Sunderland tactic of hiring a new boss two games before the derby.
Sunderland assistant boss Paul Bracewell is no stranger to St James’s and of course Jack Colback has played for both clubs in this derby, although thankfully, he’s only won in a Sunderland shirt.
With the two teams down at the bottom in a game of intense pressure, it could be a case of who cracks first. Neither team can afford to go a goal down, as it then becomes a huge task mentally to get back in the game.
With Newcastle having home advantage, they’ll feel the onus is on them to attack, but that might suit Allardyce, who can set up his team to play on the counter.
Sunderland’s January signings will be experiencing a North East derby for the first time, and even players like Yann M’Vila and Jermain Defoe will be having their first taste of a derby on Tyneside.
But I’m confident that they’re all experienced enough to not only handle the occasion, but thrive in it.
In highly-charged games like Sunday’s, discipline is everything, so avoiding early yellow cards is essential, as they can lead to trouble later on and you rarely win after a red card.
In the last home derby against Newcastle, it was the visitors who controlled the game, yet Fabricio Coloccini’s sending-off was a game-changer, and the main reason we ended up with three points.
I’ve been going to derby games for many years now – first as a young fan, then as a player and now in the media. But in all those years, I can’t remember where the stakes have been higher than they are on Sunday.