Bring on the Mackems

Posted by Marc Duffy

Stu Forster/Getty ImagesIt is always heated during a Tyne-Wear derby, as evidenced by this exchange last spring between Alan Pardew, left, and Martin O'Neill, right.

Sunday's derby game against Sunderland at St James' Park could end up being Newcastle United's last really meaningful game of the season and let's hope it is.

A win for the Geordies would take them up to 39 points with five games to play and they'd be eight points ahead of their local rivals and Wigan in the bottom three.

- Randall: Sunderland joy in Newcastle
- Ben Arfa: I'm ready for Sunderland

- Heneage: Tense derby in store

These games are important even when there is nothing at stake but local pride, so imagine what this will be like with Premier League survival thrown into the mix. Defeat leaves you absolutely rock bottom and the working week is something to dread. Thousands of people throughout the North East work with people who support the other side. As if losing a derby isn't bad enough in itself, having to face those people the following day only makes it worse. Fortunately, as a Newcastle fan I haven't had to suffer that fate all too often.

This is a derby underrated by the UK media and supporters of other clubs probably because it is the most northerly of the derbies and both sides have a modern history of underachieving. But I totally reject the claims that it is 'not as big' as the Merseyside derby, for instance. Never ever in a Tyne-Wear derby will you see supporters sitting next to each other wearing the rival shirts. Never could it be described as a friendly derby. In fact, this is the only derby in Premier League history to ban away supporters from travelling to the two fixtures (in the 1996-97 season). The hatred is not a good thing but it does lead to a fantastic atmosphere in the St James' Park derbies.

Historically, Newcastle hold the edge with 51 league wins to Sunderland's 40. In the Premier League years, Newcastle have dominated not only these games but also have consistently outperformed Sunderland in terms of league performance. Many Sunderland fans would kill (hopefully not literally) for the chance to embark on a European campaign such as Newcastle's this season.

Looking ahead to this fixture, Newcastle must approach the game from the start as they played the final half hour against Benfica on Thursday. Sunderland will be right up for it from the off with Paolo Di Canio gearing them up -- it's probably just as well for them that Howard Webb will be refereeing the game as this means that Phil Bardsley and company will be allowed some extra leeway when they make their early 'challenges'.

When you list all of the players available for this game from the two sides and look to create one team there aren't too many Sunderland players would make it in. Nine or ten of the team would come from Newcastle but derbies generally don't stick to these rules -- it is a different type of football. Again, that's why Newcastle can't afford to make the lackadaisical start they've been guilty of under Alan Pardew's leadership so often this season.

At halftime last Sunday, Newcastle were drawing at home to Fulham and Sunderland were a goal to the good against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. If the games had remained that way then Sunday would have been just about unbearable. Fortunately for Newcastle they snatched a late winner while Chelsea came back and beat Sunderland. This extended the gap between the clubs means that even if Sunderland claim the points on Sunday, they'll still be trailing Newcastle. Newcastle can't afford to think along those lines though -- a win would probably be enough to see the club safe and would condemn Sunderland to an even more desperate final few games.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

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