ANTON Ferdinand insists it will take more than one season for Sunderland to usurp Newcastle as the region’s dominant footballing force, as the North East braces itself for the return of the Tyne-Wear derby.
Newcastle clinched promotion on Easter Monday and will return to the Premier League next season after a one-year hiatus in the Championship, putting the derby fixtures back on the calendar.
Newcastle’s relegation 12 months ago, coupled with Sunderland’s solid top-flight campaign in Steve Bruce’s first year in charge, has hinted at a shift in the balance of power between Tyneside and Wearside.
But, while Sunderland are undoubtedly top dogs this season, Ferdinand believes it would be ‘stupid and naïve’ to assume the Wearsiders can claim that the crown is theirs to keep.
The Black Cats defender points out that Newcastle have just endured their first season outside the elite since the Premier League was founded in 1992, while Sunderland are still one win away from mathematically securing a fourth successive top flight campaign.
Ferdinand says the only way to prove that Sunderland now have the upper hand is by consistently finishing above their bitter rivals.
“I wouldn’t say we can assume we’re top dogs for good just yet,” Ferdinand said. “Yes, we’ve been in the Premier League this year and they haven’t. And if we finish above them in the Premier League for the next couple of seasons then I would say that we’ve taken that mantle.
“But it would be stupid and naïve of me to say we’ve taken that mantle now, when Newcastle have only been in the Championship for one season and we’ve been in the Premier League for three years and – hopefully – coming up to four.
“If I say that, people will look at it and say that I am just saying it to please our fans.
“But if over four or five years we are consistently finishing higher than Newcastle then yes, we can definitely say we have taken over.”
No tears were shed on Wearside at Newcastle’s demise last season and, unsurprisingly, there were no celebrations at the Magpies’ rapid return to the Premier League.
But even the staunchest Black Cats fan would admit that the sense of occasion that the Tyne-Wear derby games bring has been missed this season, and Newcastle’s promotion will at least ensure that those two huge fixtures will also return.
Ferdinand says for that reason – and that reason alone – he will welcome Newcastle back to the top flight.
“As a Sunderland player, I welcome them because the Tyne-Wear derby is one of the best games I have ever played in and I’d like to play in many more of them,” he said. “But, from a Sunderland fans’ point of view, seeing Newcastle in the Championship for another season wouldn’t have been too bad either!
“That would have given Sunderland the bragging rights for another season and shown Newcastle what it is like to be a club that goes up and down, up and down.
“However, from a football point of view, I am happy to see them promoted because those derby games are the kind of occasions you want to involved in.”
Ferdinand has played an important part in Sunderland’s renaissance in recent weeks, with boss Steve Bruce switching him from the centre-back role he has played for much of his career on Wearside to full-back.
Against Spurs at the weekend the 25-year-old made his first start at right-back for the club, helping Sunderland to a 3-1 win and coming within an ace of scoring his first goal since his £8m move the summer before last.
Ferdinand had the ball in the net just after the hour, but his celebrations were cut short when referee Lee Mason disallowed the goal, penalising Fraizer Campbell after he collided with Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
Ferdinand said: “The ball just broke to me and I picked my spot early and slotted it home. I don’t get into that position very often, but I think any striker would have been proud of that finish!
“I was celebrating and then when I turned round, the goal had been disallowed and I was gutted.
“It would have been nice for me to get my first goal for Sunderland – but at the end of the day, the result was more important.”