SUNDERLAND beat Newcastle yet again, so the easy thing for me would be to fill this page with an extended gloat.
So that’s pretty much what I’ve done.
I love the easy option me; I’m bone idle. Besides, it’s the last day before Christmas and they’ve let us bring games in.
Last weekend’s encounter was actually horrible to watch and nowhere near as easy as the previous one (which was won in 23 minutes); few games are. The first 10 minutes were especially excruciating. But it was all worth it.
Much credit must go to Gus Poyet and his team. Without a recognised full-back and an enforced last minute reshuffle, they still managed another clean sheet.
We have been rattling on for weeks about the need for Sunderland to attack more.
Despite a consensus on Sunday that they sat deep and waited for an opening, the fact is that they created five clear cut chances – indeed they missed four sitters – while Steven Fletcher put a wonderful effort against the bar.
On a day of star turns, Adam Johnson scored his annual Sports Direct goal, despite being fouled twice in the build-up. Special mention should also be made of Sebastian Larsson, who was just the business.
There was no luck involved with the victory, it was completely merited. We can trot out as many statistics as we like, but the team that takes more chances (in this case just the one) is the team that deserves to win. We said this after Sunderland’s defeat to a poor QPR in August and we stand by it now.
The next tricks for the chaps to master are converting chances and not overdosing on eggnog before the Hull City game on Friday, because they did that three times last season.
All this merriment is a boon for a column writer who wishes to be upbeat and Christmassy. A bad result would have seen me reduced to, once more, advising readers to watch Sweep singing Nessun Dorma on YouTube in order to cheer up.
That said, I would still recommend it.
BUT back to the childish triumphalism.
The only difficulty with this literary gloatathon is where to start. Many would begin with Jack Colback. What happened to him on Sunday? He used to love the derby games.
But I don’t really have a problem with Colback. I have issues with the likes of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Tore André Flo, but not Colback, who still holds the distinction of being the last of the current Newcastle squad to score in a derby.
The most conspicuous fish in the black and white barrel is the “defender” Steven Taylor.
Again, we know how easy it is to dredge up his stupefyingly dumb comments from October 2012 – two days before another derby that his side failed to win – but we thought you might like it anyway.
Asked about Sunderland, he said: “Not even one player on their bench would get into our starting eleven. That is the quality we possess.”
To further incite Fate, he said of Adam Johnson, of all people: “He can join our reserves if he wants to.”
At the time, Sunderland supporters were piqued by this. Now they have Steven’s quote engraved and mounted above mantelpieces. It’s that funny.
We still wonder if he included Sunderland’s Jack Colback when he made that remark.
But what of Steven himself? Back in October 2012, he also burbled: “I would rather go and collect stamps than stick on that (Sunderland’s) shirt.
“I have not got any friends who are Sunderland fans.”
It is reasonable to assume that Sunderland fans and the Royal Philatelic Society alike have managed to overcome this slight. More of a concern these days is that Steven can’t have many friends who are Newcastle fans; such is his “contribution” to the team.
How bad is he? Put it this way, when he wandered into his own goalpost on Sunday, Sunderland supporters were delighted to see that he was able to continue, lest Newcastle should be forced to replace this poor man’s Titus Bramble with someone who is actually half decent.
Steven, last spotted buying a Cornetto somewhere while Johnson stuck another one past his goalkeeper, is one of the more intriguing players in the Premier League; if only because fans of other clubs cannot understand how such a demonstrably poor footballer can still be earning a living at that level.
The good news for the London-born “Geordie” is that he is considerably more popular in Sunderland than he seems to realise.
When he makes the team, the opposition know they have a chance.
WHEN Sunderland won 3-0 at the Sports Direct Arena in 2013, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew did not take the humiliation well.
Better than the club’s rioting supporters, but not well.
He huffed: “We have to carry it like they have to with all the defeats we have inflicted on them.”
He was not being a good loser, but we are happy to report that after a herculean amount of practice, he is a much better loser these days.
When he referred to “all the defeats we have inflicted on them” it was actually just one win from five under his tenure. It is now one win from eight and the natives are restless.
The “Pardew out” motif was swept under the carpet for a while, but just eight days saw pummellings at Arsenal and Tottenham, with worse to follow in the North East’s fourth best stadium. The trademark hysteria is back and the fans aren’t happy. But why not?
Obviously they have not taken kindly to losing yet another derby – they are obsessed with Sunderland. But should a string of defeats to any one team, even Sunderland, warrant such bile?
Newcastle fans will say there is more to it than that. But looking at the bigger picture, it is easy to see why they are such figures of fun for other fans around the country. Suffice to say that “level-headed” is not an attendant description.
Pardew is a moderate manager. He was at West Ham, Charlton and Southampton. But it is indicative of the delusions of Newcastle’s support that they think they should be doing much better, or that top-level managers are staging punch-ups to decide which of them should join an average-at-best Premier League club.
In fairness to Pardew, he has taken Newcastle to 12th, 5th, 16th and 10th, with a current position of 9th. Not bad overall for a club that hasn’t won the league since 1927; a club that feels the need to sell any player with a market value in excess of a round of drinks.
But emotion is the enemy of reason; and on Tyneside, emotion is even less likely to lose than Sunderland.
Newcastle’s suave owner and saviour is unlikely to sack his aggro-loving manager in the near future. Even if he did, it is hard to see how any replacement would guide a dramatic surge up the league.
Fans of Mr Ashley’s club seem to think that just because Newcastle have punched above their weight in the past, means that they should do it every season.
Know your place.
UPON the final whistle on Sunday, the home supporters were understandably keen to make an immediate exit.
Meanwhile, attempts were made to drown out the jubilant visiting contingent with loud music. Like everything else that the home club tried, this was unsuccessful.
We also have to query the wisdom of blasting out John and Yoko wishing everyone “a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.” I don’t imagine the jukeboxes of Tyneside were spinning that one too often on Sunday evening.
It’s just possible that they didn’t think it through.
MINDFUL perhaps that he is now out of his depth as a player, the soap-dodging Joey Barton is trying to forge a career in the media.
Why not? Football punditry is obviously a job that requires no semblance of intelligence or articulacy. Good luck to him.
However, it might impress potential employers rather more if he could display just a modicum of professionalism. His Twittertisms do not present him in the most dazzling light.
One of his many problems is that he is so damn easy to wind up. You wouldn’t have thought that a thug would be so sensitive. On Sunday his cage was effortlessly rattled by miscreants alluding to his beloved Newcastle’s youngest derby defeat.
He responded in a badly worded, badly spelled, badly punctuated and badly thought out Tweet; pointing out that no such shame had befallen the club while he represented them.
Part of his response was a queeny: “Not on my watch.”
That told ‘em. But the slow-witted midfielder was too modest to mention his other achievements upon Tyne.
These included a cowardly lunge at Dickson Etuhu, slagging off the club’s supporters and winning a six-month holiday at Her Majesty’s pleasure for a vicious assault on a teenager.
Oh and relegation.
I HAVE pitched a book idea to Sunderland AFC.
Based on events in the current era, I have expressed my willingness to write a volume called SAFC: The Gloating Years. Curiously, I have yet to receive an official response. My request to ban Santa hats from the stadium has fallen on similarly deaf ears.
Late Christmas shoppers may be interested to know that a variety of Sunderland books are available in the club shop and other outlets.
One of these other outlets is WH Smith in Market Square. The SAFC literature is located at the right-hand rear of the ground floor, categorised by the wording above the shelf as “Tragic tales.”
If you don’t believe me, go and have a look for yourself.
FOOTBALL, as we are aware, is awash with clichés.
These include “got it in his locker,” “bragging rights,” “parking the bus” and “Newcastle United nil.”
There are many others, but most of them at least have the saving grace of being attestably true. But one exception is the hackneyed claim that “when it comes to derbies, the form book* always goes out of the window.”
So erratic have been both Sunderland and Newcastle since the beginning of last season, there was little to be strongly said for any prediction before Sunday. “Form” entails some sort of pattern and there really wasn’t one. No result was completely unexpected.
However, when Newcastle were lording it over their neighbours in the Kevin Keegan era, Sunderland never won a derby.
Look further afield. Since the Premier League was invented Liverpool have been indisputably better than Everton. Blue has finished the season ahead of red in three of the 22 seasons, but often not by much.
In their 45 meetings Liverpool have won 19, Everton nine with 17 draws; which sounds about right.
In Manchester it’s United 18, City 10 and six draws. But only five of those City victories came before September 2008 when an Abu Dhabi sheikh gave them an amount of money that would take me ten minutes to type. Again, this is in-keeping with form.
The London derbies, such as they are, give Arsenal 18, Tottenham nine and 18 draws. Still no surprises. Fulham won only one of their 26 Premier League derbies with Chelsea.
The list goes on. Of course there is the odd surprise in derbies, but that applies to any fixture in football. It is a myth that “the form book always goes out of the window.”
It remains suitably undefenestrated.
*The form book is available in a well-known bookshop priced £795. Look under “Tragic tales.”