Sunderland v Newcastle – We have all been here before haven’t we?

Ben Cooper takes an alternative look at today’s match and the opposition.

The Mackems going into a local derby bottom of the league with a new manager desperate to get the supporters onside, NUFC going into a derby with questions being asked about the team’s commitment and desire alongside the Managers competency.

It’s just like the last few derbies, with one major difference. This time at least one team will be trying to play football. Happily, it’ll be us.

Steve McClaren will be relieved that his “our season starts now” speech inspired both team and fans to their best performance of the season in last week’s 6-2 thumping of Norwich and also that his post-match quote, “this is Newcastle, anything can happen” shows that he is finally starting to understand what it is like to support Newcastle United.

Although Sam Allardyce (The Walrus of Lump – Pictured above) has only spent a couple of weeks in the Mackem managerial ejector seat it seems to be that, like McClaren, he understands his audience, his debut performance last week against WBA as typically charmless as his teams and their fans.

While McClaren was quite rightly dismissing questions regarding defensive frailties and focussing on the positives of a 6-2 win, Allardyce was blaming the referee for a debut 1-0 loss at West Brom.

True enough the goal which separated the sides was probably a foul on the goalkeeper, but it was also poor goalkeeping and we’ll be looking forward to more of the same today.

Fat Sam didn’t let the defeat bother him too much, he praised his side’s defensive qualities which he no doubt had them working on 24 hours a day since arrived in Wearside and no doubt in a few years’ time he’ll be interviewed about the game and Sunderland will have won 4-0 with him scoring all the goals, such is the gob on the fella.

After the Baggies loss, Allardyce mentioned that he had masterminded Sunderland not conceding multiple goals for only the third time this season. Well I suppose you’ve got to take the positives out of any situation.

We’ll be full of confidence after scoring 6, they’ll be full of confidence after keeping it down to one.

While it looks like we are finally settling into some sort of 4-4-2 pattern with a bit more solidity in midfield and our creative players finding the space they need away from the melee which Tiote and Colback occupy, the Mackems initial 4-1-4-1 formation was a bit of a change to the Allardyce norm, certainly at NUFC The Walrus of Lump favoured a 4-6-0 formation.

Given time, Allardyce will no doubt soon change Sunderland from a team which doesn’t score goals to one which doesn’t even try to score goals. While the midfield will be no place for the faint-hearted with Clattermole and M’Vila equally as forceful as our midfield destroyers, I doubt it is there that the game will be won or lost today.

It’s probably worth giving Colback the captaincy today just to wind the Mackems up a little bit more.

sunderland v newcastle

Fat Sam has already spoken about “keeping our emotions in check” before the game, surprising really, I didn’t know he had any, but making Colback captain will wind them up more than McDonalds stopping serving breakfast at 11am, two hours before most of them have got up.

It is probably defence that is the key for the Mackems today. They know that to win they will have to keep a clean sheet and they know with Younes Kaboul at the back they have very little chance of keeping a clean sheet.

Last year at Spurs Kaboul was by far the worst defender in the PL so it was bizarre that the Mackems signed him, even more bizarre because Kaboul had previously said during a previous phase of interest:

“Younes wouldn’t join Sunderland even if there was an earthquake. We have more interesting options than Sunderland. Don’t even think about it.”

Never say “never” in football eh? Still, Kaboul was right about that earthquake, you just have to drive through Hendon to see the devastation it caused, not that they’ve bothered to clean it up.

Another irony is that in Mitrovic we have exactly the type of centre forward that Fat Sam has tried to front his team with in the past; Kevin Davies at Bolton, Andy Carroll at West Ham and unfortunately Mark Viduka at NUFC.

If ever anyone epitomised Allardyce’s time at NUFC it was Viduka; immobile, lazy and slow, he was the perfect frontman for a team who ambled forward like The Walking Dead and were just as fragile.

Mitrovic is a different animal altogether and he should give the Sunderland defence the hardest battle they have had in a derby since Carroll, Ameobi and Nolan put five past them in 2010.

Allardyce has no one similar at Sunderland, unsettled Steven Fletcher or unsettled Toon fan Danny Graham, who looks embarrassed to be there, may get the nod up front ahead of unsettled Jermaine Defoe, who previous manager Dick Advocaat said couldn’t “play up front on his own”, which probably means he’ll never play for the Mackems because they only play up front on their own under Allardyce.

sunderland v newcastle

(Danny Graham hiding in Sunderland)

Defoe himself has commented this week that:

“At the age of 33, you want to play football. I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. You want to play football and score goals. I said that from day one.”

Looks like he’ll have to move then.

Scoring goals hasn’t been NUFC’s main problem in recent weeks, we scored 6 against an ‘expansive’ Norwich last week, though it is unlikely that Sunderland will be ‘expansive’ under Allardyce, probably closer to ‘dismal’.

Tactically, Fabio Borini let the cat out of the bag this week when he said:

“I found out with Ancelotti and the big managers, that they were caring about every single thing from set plays to throw-ins. That’s what the manager has been doing here since day one.”

Big managers? Allardyce’s waistline is probably the closest thing he has to being “expansive” but it does give an insight into someone who the pundits say is one of the most hard-working managers in the PL. None of his teams can play football but they can all take a throw-in.

Despite our previous 5 defeats to this lot we have nothing to fear about a trip to the S.O.S, except our own defensive frailties.

If we try and outscore Sunderland we probably will. Of course we’ll have to battle, work hard and earn the right to play, which hasn’t been our strong point this season, but we look like a team who can score more than them and that should play a crucial role in our tactics, formation and pre-match team talks.

Despite all of that, when the dust has settled at least we only have to go there once a year.

If we come home with three points, we might not even have to do that next season. I’ll leave you with the words of Gus Poyet, just before he was sacked as Sunderland manager last season:

“I’m not going to get involved any more. If we close Sunderland – if we put a China Wall around the city – it would be fantastic.”

I think we’d all agree with that. Howay The Lads.