Mark Douglas: Welcome to the desperation derby

As Sunderland sit at the foot of the league table and Newcastle only ten points ahead of them, both teams are desperate to win the Wear-Tyne derby

Lewis Arnold Shola Ameobi celebrates during the Tyne-Wear derby 31 October 2010
Shola Ameobi celebrates during the Tyne-Wear derby 31 October 2010

The North East might not have amassed trophies, success or any form of supporter satisfaction in the modern era but we can present something unique: the only true Desperation Derby in the Premier League.

In Manchester and Liverpool, they tussle over titles and European spots. Here we have two teams scrambling over each other simply to survive. It is an indictment of sorts but it also makes the Tyne-Wear tussles unique and electrifying experiences – where aggravation is never far from the surface.

A theme seems to have developed this year that the desperation resides solely on Wearside. On more than one occasion this week I’ve been told by sane observers that if the Black Cats lose the derby they are effectively down, such will be the effect on morale of losing to their nearest rivals.

I don’t agree. Sunderland might be working against the clock to salvage the almighty mess that their unsatisfactory summer left them in, but important men on Tyneside are just as desperate as Gus Poyet and company.

While Newcastle might have been impressive against Liverpool, Alan Pardew needs a win just as acutely as Sunderland and Poyet.

No doubt with satisfaction at Saturday’s brave draw coursing through his veins, the United manager was moved to boast about Newcastle’s impressive record against Sunderland in his post-match press conference.

But whatever message he was trying to get across, his own tale of the tape is nothing to write home about yet.

To recap: five games, one narrow win, three 1-1 draws (all with goals in the last five minutes) and one walloping defeat. A loss on Sunday and suddenly all the good work of the last fortnight is wiped out.

You have to wonder if that is playing on his mind as he considers his approach to Sunday’s game. He told his press department to restrict the number of interviews his players were giving this week – a tactic tried by Steve Bruce, incidentally, in the derby that followed his own Tyne-Wear humbling. Any nerves he has will be mitigated by the sorry state that Sunderland find themselves
in.

Last Saturday’s 4-0 defeat against Swansea was an unexpected nadir in a season that has provided far too many soul-searching moments.

It was not the loss that prompted the inquests, more the manner of it. The Black Cats’ collapse saw the Daily Mirror’s man at the game (the sharp Neil McLeman) dole out a set of merit marks than accused all but two of Sunderland’s players of being “gutless”.

It was a harsh denouement on a group who have – in my experience – never been scared to roll their sleeves up in difficult situations. The worry is that it did look on Saturday as if some of them were lacking the required fortitude to get the team out of the mess they find themselves in.

As the derby is a mental test as much as an examination of ability (see last season’s triumph for a motivated Sunderland over a far more technically gifted United for proof of that), that gives Newcastle a massive advantage.

On the crest of a wave, I just can’t see how Sunderland are going to keep Newcastle out for 90 minutes.

There’s no doubt Poyet’s task is far bigger than Pardew’s – but both men need three points in this desperate clash.

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