Alan Pardew heads for tomorrow’s potentially season-defining Wear-Tyne tussle admitting there are no excuses for a repeat of April’s derby day disaster.
With the surprise twist that Fabricio Coloccini is back on Tyneside and in with a shout of starting, Pardew could potentially pick eight of the eleven who were involved in the 3-0 humbling against Sunderland last Spring. Pardew admits that many of them are probably still carrying scars from the day but hopes they use that pain as a motivation to put things right at the Stadium of Light on Sunday lunchtime.
The United boss (pictured right) always argued that the major contributory factor for the 3-0 loss was lethargy after the exertions of their Europa League quarter-final against Benfica.
With no midweek game this time around – and the momentum of a fine performance against Liverpool to build on – he accepts that he has no room for manoeuvre if his team are humbled again.
Instead he will send the players out with a simple message – to prove a point to
those who criticised them last time around.
He said: “One of the things on my agenda to prove is that we will be putting out a very similar team to that one. The same players are available, Remy is the only change.
“We were tired from that Benfica quarter-final – no doubt about that in my mind but that needs to be proved because if we get beat 3-0 again, I ain’t got that argument this time.”
Pardew has confirmed that Steven Taylor has returned to training this week and he also has a selection dilemma up front, where he must decide whether Hatem Ben Arfa can be deployed as a ‘false nine’ in a reprisal of his role in the Liverpool match.
The likelihood is that his team will be very similar to the line-up that was dispatched by Paolo Di Canio’s Black Cats five months ago. Pardew admits there is a lot riding on the outcome.
“I hope there are still mental scars from that game. You want your players to use that as a positive, of course. There is something on every game but in this game a little bit more. Firstly, it is a derby. Secondly, because of the last result. The team need to reflect that.
“There’s a lot riding on this game, not just that. We can get to 14 points which would be a really good total for us, I think, after last year with only changing one player. And also, a third (successive) strong performance in the Premier League starts giving good signals so there is a lot, not just what happened last year, riding on this for us.”
Sunderland’s dire situation has left many predicting an away win but Pardew – who has watched the Black Cats twice this season – feels they are good enough to stay in the division.
His job will be made much easier if he can count Coloccini into the mix. As revealed in The Journal earlier this week, the defender was back in South America recovering from his groin problem but the club called him back in the middle of this week and he is very close to playing tomorrow.
“He was brilliant last season. It is a blow to lose our captain at any time. I think that was proved last year,” said Pardew.
“Our stats when he does not play ain’t great because he is so important in terms of his calmness and assurance but we have got, in my opinion, a playing squad this year which is stronger and can cope without his leadership qualities at times.”