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Tyne Wear Derby Preview

Saturday 3rd March 2012
Seldom has there been a Tyne Wear derby competed with both sides vying for major accolades in English football. Newcastle are chasing a European qualification spot and Sunderland are in the last eight of the FA Cup and have an outside chance of Europa League qualification via the league. All well and good, but it's time those aspirations were put in the slow cooker.

This is the only fixture anyone is talking about up in the North East. Both cities have grounded to a halt (don't worry, that is perfectly normal up here) as even those non-football inclined are discussing where they are going to watch the derby. Recent form is irrelevant, the only past matches murmured are the last and most famous victories in this fixture. Last season's mirror match the one that we shall not discuss, although it is the one most Geordies are talking about. The Mackems have to cast their minds back to 2008 for their last victory, Kieran Richardson bulleting home a free-kick in the 2-1 win.

No-one around here truly believes this match is ‘just a game' or ‘just three points'. It's part of our culture. It's part of our history, and I am not just talking about footballing history. You go all the way back to 1642 and the English Civil War for the first recorded time these two North East giants locked horns, with Tyneside siding with the Cavaliers and Wearside with the Roundheads, the eventual winners might I add.

The first competitive fixture between these two sides was an FA Cup tie in 1888, which Sunderland won 2-0. It is, however, Newcastle who boast the most overall and recent victories, recording 53 to Sunderland's 45 as well as wins in the last two encounters, including the one we still shall not discuss.

So who does have the upper hand in this one? The answer is simply nobody. If you take recent games into consideration, despite last week's horror show at West Brom, Sunderland are the form team primarily due to Martin O'Neill's instant impact. Newcastle sit a tidy ten points ahead in the league, and are at home. Not to mention they now boast one of the most potent strikeforces in the Premier League with Senegalese duo Demba Ba and Papis Demba Cisse, backed up by impressive midfield dynamos Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote.

Winning is certainly not a feat outside of Sunderland's grasp, and in fact you could argue Newcastle's style of play will fall into their rivals' hands quite nicely. Their recent drubbings at the hands of Tottenham and Fulham were catalysed by concise counter attacks born primarily from sheer pace, something which is fast becoming synonymous with O'Neill's Sunderland.

I fully expect an unchanged side from Newcastle's last home game, where they had a second half collapse at the hands of struggling Wolves, chucking away a comfortable 2-0 lead. Sunderland are likely to make one change, don't be surprised to see Nicklas Bendtner replace Jack Colback in the starting eleven. Though most Sunderland fans have not exactly warmed to the Danish international, this would be a shrewd move as he offers the kind of hold-up play which no-one else in the squad does, which will enhance the prolificacy of our counter-attacking football.

In the context of the two team's respective seasons, a win for the home side will further consolidate their European spot, whilst the away side will be gunning for their rivals – not just for pride but you have to think whoever finishes above Newcastle will qualify for Europe.

It is certainly shaping up to be an engrossing encounter, make sure you're watching it.
Gary McLaughlin
Sunderland born. Sunderland bred. Maybe a tad Sunderland biased too but nevermind. Love to put fingers to keys.

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