NEWCASTLE United will be warmly welcomed back to the Premier League by Sunderland manager Steve Bruce – for professional as much as sentimental reasons.
The Magpies’ one-year Championship sabbatical could officially come to an end on Saturday when, if results go their way, they will clinch promotion back to the top-flight. That will delight Bruce, and not just because he used to support them when growing up on Tyneside.
The Black Cats boss believes Newcastle will bring with them passion, excitement and revenue.
“I think that the North East wants Newcastle back,” said the Corbridge-born manager. “I’m from here so I can say it. We want our football clubs to do well, we want Newcastle and Middlesbrough in the Premier League because the supporters of all of the clubs are like nowhere else. The more the merrier for me because we have missed them.
“The last few games at home we had 1,500 (away fans) come when we played Man City, Wigan 300, Fulham 200, Birmingham 400. When Newcastle come next year there’ll be thousands, which makes for a great game.”
The Magpies’ average Championship gates this season have been bigger even than those Sunderland have attracted in the top-flight, the fifth best in the country.
But more than that, their reappearance on the big stage will re-ignite a Tyne-Wear rivalry which has to a large degree had to lay dormant since May.
At one stage during Sunderland’s bleak mid-winter it looked like the North East’s two biggest clubs could be swapping divisions at the end of the season. The Black Cats, though, have recovered their poise after 14 league games without a win.
Victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday – not as unlikely as it may sound given their form against the big clubs under Bruce, particularly on Wearside – would take them to 38 points and in their manager’s eyes, the brink of safety.
“Possibly,” said Bruce after a quick bit of mental arithmetic when asked if a win would guarantee it. “It would take a hell of a run for the other teams to catch us.
“But I think last year we took one point from our last seven games here and we nearly came unstuck.
“The one thing I want to do is finish the season well. In every game we’re against a top team or a bottom team, so there’ll be something to play for in all of them. It’s not going to be easy but I hope we can get to 38 points by Saturday night and within touching distance of being safe for next year.”
The Wearsiders narrowly avoided relegation with 36 points last year, but only on the final day of the season.
Bruce will pick from the same squad comprehensively outplayed at Anfield, except for the addition of David Meyler. The Irish midfielder has had an impressive first season in senior football since making his debut at Blackburn Rovers over the Christmas period. His manager conceded the 20-year-old’s ankle injury had been unfortunately timed.
“Meyler was very, very unlucky because I think I would have played him against Aston Villa but he turned his ankle on the morning,” he revealed. “He did that in the summer and was out for a few months.
“If he’s recovered he’s in contention – the two games he played, he was excellent. He’s given me food for thought.”
Alan Hutton, who missed the Liverpool defeat through injury, would have been unavailable anyway because the Scotland international is on loan from this weekend’s opponents.
Former Spurs midfielder Andy Reid continues to endure a frustrating second half of the season.
“It was a hamstring (injury), then a calf, now it’s back to a hamstring,” said Bruce. “It was like Catts’ (Lee Cattermole).”