It is Sunderland v Newcastle tonight.
The first ‘derby’ match in almost three years, the last time being March 2016 when a late Aleksandar Mitrovic header saw the game at St James Park end 1-1.
Of course, Tuesday night is no normal derby, as for the first time, Sunderland are playing a first team fixture against Newcastle United’s Under 21 side.
Newcastle fans are delighting in the whole thing and seeing it as a free hit ‘no lose’ game, due to it being a bunch of NUFC kids taking on the Sunderland first team.
Whilst those on Wearside are seeing it as a ‘no win’ match, even if they do come out on top the fact remains that the game has taken place, due to the respective leagues the two clubs find themselves in.
Manager Jack Ross spoke (see below) for all those at Sunderland when declaring ‘it’s far from ideal’ that this peculiar derby is taking place.
Much of the pre-match debate has been about fans and how many from each club would want to turn up.
Newcastle United asked for the full ticket allocation, competition rules saying a minimum of 10% (4,900) of the capacity should go to away fans.
Sunderland refused to comply and only made available 2,800 which were quickly snapped up, then when Newcastle asked for the rest of the allocation, Sunderland and Northumbria Police put the block on it. Something which sets a dangerous precedent if the two clubs are ever drawn together in the FA or League Cup, as the same arguments will be used to deny the away fans the larger allocation they should be entitled to in these cup competitions.
As for Sunderland fans, there were complaints about the rise in price from £3 to £15 compared to the previous Checkatrade Trophy matches, plus of course their supporters conflicted in terms of wanting to support their team BUT at the same time seeing it as a bit of a mickey mouse ‘derby’ match and indeed, competition.
Early estimates had talked of a crowd as high as between thirty and forty thousand but the reality has turned out a little different.
There are no tickets on sale today, with the deadline being 5pm on Monday.
Sunderland’s online ticket system was showing sales of 12,500 at 4pm yesterday, after a relative late rush for tickets seeing around 2,000 sold on Monday up to that point.
However, with 2,800 Newcastle fans and no more than 13,000 home supporters, we are looking at only around 16,000 for this particular/peculiar derby match.
Jack Ross – Monday 7 January 2019:
“It (Sunderland’s first team playing Newcastle Under 21s) s a very unusual set of circumstances.
“If I’m honest, it’s far from ideal.
“I mean because we are involved in this competition as a first team, due to what has happened (consecutive relegations bottom of the table) in the last couple of years.
“One of the ambitions, goals or targets for me coming here as manager, is to lead this club into a derby match (against Newcastle’s first team), hopefully at the top level.
“This is not what tomorrow night is.
“It is a Checkatrade trophy match and that’s really how we’re looking at it.
“Our preparations have been the same, our approach to the game will be the same, as it has been when it was Stoke Under 21s or whether it was Morecambe, Carlisle or Notts County, or whoever it was.
“It (not having derbies in the league) is a disappointment for us because that’s a consequence of us having suffered relegations.
“Newcastle have retained their place in the top league in that period and so, that’s when the disappointment or soreness of that becomes more acute, when a fixture like this comes around.
“The drive for me is to take the club back to playing in these fixtures.
“I mean that in the most respectful manner because this isn’t the derby or a derby that is seen as the one that everybody would want it to be.
“It just gives us the extra motivation to make sure that, hopefully in future, I get the chance to manage a Sunderland team in this derby and it’s done on a league footing and we both find ourselves, ideally in the top league.”