Sunderland’s gameplan was to pass Newcastle United off the St James’ Park pitch and they executed it brilliantly on Saturday.
While the hosts were bogged down by the problems of another transfer window without buying a player and the loss of their three top goalscorers, things could scarcely be more different for the Black Cats.
Out of the relegation zone last week, with two defeats in 14 games and a League Cup final to look forward to next month, Sunderland’s confidence is sky high at the moment.
Saturday’s 3-0 win over Newcastle completed their first back-to-back victories in this season’s Premier League and a sequence of three consecutive derby wins for the first time since 1923.
It featured impressive performances from January signings Marcos Alonso and Liam Bridcutt.
The Argentinian trio of Ignacio Scocco, Santiago Vergini and Oscar Ustari were able to watch from the bench as they settle into English football.
In Adam Johnson, who scored Sunderland’s second goal and hit the post, they have on of the Premier League’s most in-form players.
The winger has seven goals in seven appearances.
Johnson said: “We were confident before the game, with Newcastle losing a few players. We capitalised on that.
“We totally dominated them. We were confident it was about us. We just passed the ball and they kept kicking it back to front.
“We kept picking it up and kept passing it. We aimed to pass them off the pitch, really.”
Now 14th, Sunderland started last week in the relegation zone, where they had been throughout Gustavo Poyet’s tenure as coach.
When he took over in October, they had one point.
Johnson added: “People wrote us off two months ago, people said we were down.
“I kept saying we still had a lot of home games to come.
“Now we are well up the league. It just showed there was still a lot of football to be played.
“We always had the confidence deep down. We just let everyone talk on the outside.
“We are happy now, we are still pushing on and we have another great game coming up on Saturday.
“Gus is a top man. The staff as well, we all have a good camaraderie. We have always stayed together and he has installed that. The lads love playing for him.
“Charlie (Oatway, Poyet’s first team coach) came up to me at the end, he said something funny and they are the type of characters you need in a dressing room.
“Maybe they have given us the confidence without us knowing it.
“I have not changed anything. I have just hit that form which has been in there all along.”
Johnson was in and out of the team during Poyet’s first few months, but since the turn of the year he has become the player he always threatened to be at Middlesbrough. Poyet revealed: “We talked a little bit at the start of December.
“I said to him there was a part of the responsibility which was Adam’s and a part of the responsibility which was in the way we play.
“For Adam to perform, we have to play a certain style of football.
“We need to understand when we need to use Adam and in what areas of the field.
There are plenty of things the team have to understand, not just one player, to take advantage of Adam’s ability. Slowly, we are learning and doing that.”