Wise Men Say: Win the midfield battle and Sunderland could win the war

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I tend to feel negative about most derby games even though I generally keep a fairly positive outlook.

However, when it comes to playing our neighbours from up the road, my outlook changes completely and I expect nothing but the absolute worst.

Given how spoiled we are at the moment, you can be forgiven for forgetting that games against Newcastle in recent times tended to end in a valiant draw at best.

I used to let myself get optimistic about playing against them, but seeing Paul McShane let Michael Owen go past him like he was the wrong bus and Kevin Nolan’s chicken dance knocked any potential hope out of me.

A more pragmatic manager than the last two Sunderland have faced, Steve McClaren will probably not let his heart rule his head, despite the confidence boosting win against Norwich.

He’ll have been targeting four points from Norwich and Sunderland, and with three already in the bag, he can afford to instruct his team to absorb pressure and play on the counter attack, knowing that Sunderland are now at the stage where they have to look at Sunday simply as a winnable home game.

Sunderland won’t be as disorganised at the back as Norwich were though, if Saturday’s game against West Bromwich Albion is anything to go by.

West Brom’s controversial goal was their only shot on target in the entire game and they only managed a total of two shots all together.

There was much more organisation to the back line and the lads will be encouraged by their defensive display overall.

Georginio Wijnaldum has had a mixed start to his time on Tyneside, but he really showed what he’s capable of with his four goals on Sunday.

Keeping Wijnaldum quiet will be difficult and the old cliché of winning the battle in midfield couldn’t be more appropriate.

Sunderland will look to Yann M’Vila to continue his decent start to the season, along with Lee Cattermole, who has certainly shown that he knows what it takes to control a Wear-Tyne derby.

Sam Allardyce has spoken of how he prefers to adapt the way his team plays depending on opposition, and he can be attack-minded by handing a recall to Jeremain Lens.

The pace and creativity of the Dutchman will certainly cause problems for Newcastle, especially if he can get into crossing positions.

Newcastle have struggled with crosses and with the intelligent movement of Fabio Borini and DeAndre Yedlin, it’ll certainly give Newcastle’s defenders a lot to think about.

An early goal for either side will set the tone of the game, though given the fragile confidence of two struggling teams.

If Sunderland score early, then it has the possibility to melt away Newcastle’s confidence from the Norwich game.

However, an early goal for Newcastle will keep that confidence going, especially given the way it will flatten the spirits of the home fans.

Even after writing about it from a logical point of view, I still can’t shake the overriding scepticism I always have when we play Newcastle.

It’s probably just a defence mechanism so that I’m prepared for the worst.

The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.