It took until the final whistle of Alan Pardew’s second Tyne-Wear derby for him to truly understand the significance of the fixture.
Safely ensconsed in Steve Bruce’s office in the bowels of the Stadium of Light after full-time, the Sunderland manager gloomily predicted the fall-out of the 1-0 win that Newcastle had just smuggled out of Wearside.
“I remember Steve Bruce saying to me ‘You have just killed the next six weeks for me” and I did not actually know what he meant,” Pardew recalls.
“For me at the time, it was ‘OK, it’s a derby, let’s go to the next game’ but when you understand how the North East media works, it can be like that.”
That season the lesson continued until May. Newcastle rode the crest of a wave into the Europa League while Bruce never quite recovered his composure on Wearside and was out of a job by the turn of the year.
The derby might not have been the only reason why the two seasons diverged so starkly, but it was certainly a staging point for the campaign. That win bought Newcastle time and patience and it banked plenty of favour for a new-look squad.
Pardew knows that a similar outcome tomorrow has the potential to transform the agenda again – but sometimes that knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It certainly constricted Bruce’s thinking, to the point where he made bad decisions that ultimately cost him his job.
The question is whether Pardew will fall into a familiar trap, having sampled the bitter fall-out of losing this game back in April.
Being aware of the size of the stakes can sometimes transform a manager’s approach even more than it can a players, and while Pardew doesn’t seem like the nervous type he admits it is the worst kind of fixture for a boss.
“The game is a tough game for the managers because there is a big fall-out afterwards, particularly in the North East.
“Even if you draw and have not performed well, it gets a huge amount of column inches and conspiracy theories to write and adulation, perhaps beyond the performance if you do well.
“That tide of optimism can carry you and obviously that is what we were looking for.”
What Pardew needs to do is channel his knowledge of the game into something positive.
These matches tend to fall into a pattern, and the Newcastle boss has identified the importance of a quick start to the game.
In last season’s Stadium of Light derby, Newcastle gained the ascendancy early and always seemed to be on top. It was only Cheick Tiote’s red card, collected carelessly, that derailed the Magpies.
By contrast, Newcastle’s Gallic newcomers were knocked off their stride by Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland last time around and were unable to play with the composure that they were capable of.
Pardew will send his team out with the instruction to soak in the atmosphere but not to let it knock them off their stride. He feels the team that starts to ‘play football’ first will invariably be the winner.
“I was an outsider and now I am an insider. And my opinion is the same as when I arrived,” he said.
“It has got a special atmosphere and a special electricity to it which is not seen often.
“Sometimes Arsenal v Tottenham can be like that, certainly Rangers v Celtic and I have been to a couple of Manchester derbies which are similar but this is right up there andit is about having two sides to your game.
“You need to have a competitive edge and deal with that real battle of locking horns and then, you have got to play and it is the team that starts playing first.
“And it is the team that starts playing first, that usually, usually wins. Not always but usually.”
The North East saw another managerial casualty this week and Pardew sent his sympathy to Tony Mowbray. Gus Poyet will be the fourth Black Cats boss he comes face-to-face with on Sunday.
“It will be the fourth manager of Sunderland but I have faced and it is a difficult game,” he said.
“It is a difficult environment to be a Premier League manager or any manager in the North East because we have lost everybody since the start of the year.
“My Christmas plans are out of the window because I was going to invite all the coaches. We will have to rejig those.
“On a serious note, what is done is done, you can’t change the past and that will always be seen as Paolo’s day. For us it is a different game and hopefully a much better performance from us and also result of course.”
The narrative running up to the game has been that Sunderland haven’t got a prayer, but the sight of Pope Francis holding up a Black Cats shirt might have given Wearsiders hope of divine inspiration.
Or maybe – given Pardew’s insistence that Coloccini has a chance for the game – the Papal order-of-the-day has been praying for the swift return of one of his favourite players.
Pardew played along: “You have got to look at all angles sometimes. We are all looking for marginal gains and I suppose the Pope could help.
“I will have to have a word with Colo to see if he has any influence there. I think he has met him.”