Can you remember a better fortnight being a Sunderland fan? I’m not sure if I can. We’ve all cracked the odd joke that the result of this match doesn’t matter massively to us, but, we all know that’s a load of tosh. Imagine getting to Wembley, out of the relegation zone AND doing the double over the Mags? Ha way man, you couldn't write a better fortnight if you tried.
The Mags won't go out of their way to wrestle possession from for huge periods, they are a considerably quicker and more direct team than most - which creates a lot of chances. Central to pretty much all of their good play has been the recently departed Yohan Cabaye, so it will be interesting just how effective they will be without him. That's not to say Newcastle are a team who like to play without the ball for long periods, far from it, but they are a flexible side and create chances regardless of which side retains possessional dominance.
We should get opportunities ourselves. The Mags have only managed to keep one clean sheet at home since August. Which players will get those opportunities will make the difference and our line up is going to be very interesting. Does Ignacio Scocco get thrown in at the deep end? Probably not. What about Connor Wickham? Probably not either. Will Steven Fletcher still be here? Probably not. Can Jozy Altidore score? Probably not. Let's hope all the opportunities fall to Fabio Borini then!
Sunderland for once go into this match with some injury concerns. Both Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole will have late fitness tests, both you sense could be imperative to our fortunes. The Mags having Yoan Gouffran and Papis Cisse fighting for match fitness whilst Fabricio Collocini is ruled out. Harem Ben Arfa is available despite widespread rumours of injury. Loci Remy is suspended despite a futile appeal, lolz.
· Most number of shots outside the area (205) with the 8th best conversion rate (14th without Yohan Cabaye)
· 5th highest number of chances created at home (137)
· Just one defensive error leading to a goal - the 2nd best in the league (0 at home)
· Sunderland and Newcastle are 1st and 2nd for most red cards
Key Battle – The Entire Midfield!
As with any derby it is won and lost in the midfield. There’s a fine line between liability and prudence in a game so heavily fuelled with passion. It is also a game that simply must be fuelled in some way by passion, because to exempt that would leave you vunerable to a devasting result, as both clubs have felt in recent years. If one midfield can keep their heads, without losing the tenacity required in a blood-thirsty derby, more than the other – that team will win.
It would be the icing on the cake of what has been the best week and half I can remember as a Sunderland fan. Let's not forget it's significance to our league position with Hull City visiting next weekend. Don Vito will no doubt have some work to do but you'd fancy him and our centre backs to get the better of such a patched up attacking line up. Can we do the double? It's a cracking opportunity and given our recent fortunes, I don't think we'll let it slip - 2-1, we always win 2-1.