Wearsiders hoping for a dead Cat bounce this weekend might want to look away now.
The age-old maxim that form goes out of the window in a derby might sound about right given the chaos and calamity that seems to descend on the game, but it doesn’t strictly stand up to scrutiny. Of the last 20 meetings between the Tyne-Wear rivals stretching back to 1999, just two victories have been chiselled out against the formbook.
That sets into stark context the size of the task facing Gus Poyet as he looks to grasp the unique opportunity that the Wear-Tyne clash affords him. The new Sunderland boss accepted on Saturday night that this match was a chance to snatch back a bit of momentum and get wearied supporters back on their side – but that presumes they are capable of winning it.
The idea that a Black Cats side that have been undermined by fundamental problems might suddenly conjure up a victory against a relatively settled Newcastle team probably stems from the idea that the feverish atmosphere of the Stadium of Light might unsettle a United side that still bears scars from the 3-0 reverse they suffered at St James’ Park.
It relies on the logic that football is governed by emotion and swayed by the adrenaline-fuelled feeling that will cascade from the terraces on Sunday. Only recent derby history suggests that form is the biggest indicator of where the points are going to go.
The Journal’s research took the five games that preceded the derby and handed out three points for a win and a point for a draw – even if they were cup games. On only two occasions (last season’s 3-0 Sunderland win at St James’ Park and when Newcastle won 5-1 in 2010) did the team with fewer points than their rival from the previous five games end up winning.
Those anomalies were far out-weighed by the number of times a team had entered the derby game in better form and proceeded to win comfortably. That has happened eight times in 20 matches, including some of the most straightforward wins in recent derby history.
Jog your memory and see if you can remember these lot: in 2008, Sunderland beat Joe Kinnear’s struggling Newcastle 2-1 and in the same year Newcastle under Kevin Keegan beat Roy Keane’s Sunderland.
Newcastle did the double on Sunderland in their woeful 2005/6 season and the same was true in 2002/3. If he’s looking for an omen, perhaps Poyet should study the Stadium of Light fixture in 2000 when Peter Reid’s Sunderland hosted Newcastle after a slump in fortunes.
They had lost four straight games – including an FA Cup shock against Tranmere – and went two down early in the fixture against Sir Bobby Robson’s powerful Newcastle.
But Kevin Phillips pounced twice, including an 82nd-minute leveller – to give Sunderland a point.
Newcastle, having accrued 10 points from their previous five games, might have been expected to ride their momentum to a win that day but the Black Cats summoned a response. Having had their character and commitment called into question, that is precisely what Sunderland need on Sunday.
All this week people have been labelling Sunderland a poor side with poor character: it is up to them, along with Poyet, to prove that their form is something of a mirage.
On Saturday, Poyet said that the derby would focus minds rather than distract them.
“At the end of the day it is about winning a football game and it needs to be now. We say in Spanish ‘we need to do it yesterday’. Not even tomorrow will do – we need to do it now,” he said.
“The derby is a great opportunity. Can we do it? I believe. I’m sure we’re going to work so hard this week that it is possible.” History and form, however, are not on their side.
Perhaps Pardew senses that momentum is with his team this time around. Aping the approach of Steve Bruce in 2010 as he looked to garner a reaction from his Sunderland players to their 5-1 derby defeat, he has demanded a low-key build-up to the game.
That means a minimal number of interviews in the Newcastle camp, with Pardew himself doing the majority of the talking at his Friday press conference. It is a strategy that probably stems from Steven Taylor’s incendiary comments about Sunderland last season, which the manager felt added an extra edge to the match.
When asked about the derby last week, Pardew (pictured right) made reference to that as he looks to embrace the “electric” atmosphere of the Wear-Tyne clash.
He said: “That week (derby week) it goes mad, there’s all sorts of rumours put out, all sorts of stuff going on and it makes it really, really difficult. The press are looking for an angle, a quote. Last year Steven Taylor made a silly quote and that got really brought out into the open and made into a massive story.
“It’s that sort of thing: you wake up in the morning and look at your phone and think ‘Oh god, here we go – someone’s made a rick and it makes it even more pressurised.
“I have to say, one of the real highlights of my managerial career is leading my team out in that derby.
“If you’re a player that’s the sort of game you want to be playing in.
“My first trip to the Stadium of Light I had never seen anything like it.
“The passion, the furore – there was almost like a mist over the pitch of expectation.
“If you’re a great player, that’s the atmosphere you want to play in.”