Tyne-Wear Derby offers Newcastle and Sunderland’s unsung heroes a chance to shine
It suits Alan Pardew to downplay the significance of Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby. Since being gifted the Newcastle job in December 2010, his team have won just one of their seven clashes with Sunderland. When the away team came away from St James’ Park with a 3-0 victory in 2013, it was the heaviest Newcastle derby defeat since 1979 – and then, a year later, it happened again. When Pardew told the press this week that the fixture is ‘always interesting’, then, he almost certainly meant ‘interesting’ in its most euphemistic sense. ‘Shut your noise,’ he seems to be saying to Newcastle fans, and focus your attentions elsewhere.
His Sunderland counterpart Gus Poyet might be expected to be a smidgen more brash, given that he is unbeaten in Tyne-Wear derbies since taking over as manager. Not so: ‘unless someone wins player of the month like Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson did last season,’ he said after his team’s 10th draw in 16 league games, ‘it is going to be boring draws all the time.’ As a strict assessment of his team’s recent performances, it is fair enough. As a means of stirring and spurring them to another win at the home of their biggest rivals, it looks at best misguided.
Newcastle United v Sunderland Betting Odds:
Newcastle win 9/10
Sunderland win 57/20
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Thankfully, Sunday is not about words. Whatever Pardew or Poyet have to say, it cannot diminish – nor, for that matter, amplify – what is a moment, not a match. Fans of both teams love the derby because fans of both teams make the derby (it is always just ‘the derby’), transforming manager to makeweight, player to pawn, and stadium to cesspit – glorious, wondrous, hate-filled cesspit.
After Newcastle were comprehensively beaten by Arsenal at the weekend, I sent a message to my Newcastle-supporting dad, noting that the midweek League Cup quarter final vs Tottenham was always the more important fixture. His reply was, ‘I and derby stick it up the makums’ (‘I’ equals ‘Aye’, ‘makums’ equals ‘mackems’, or Sunderland fans): no nuance, no cause for elaboration, just a target. While this might be typical of most dads’ football texting habits, it is nonetheless telling. There is no room for ‘rational’ analysis when the derby rolls around; what we have here, Clive, is an occasion where the form book goes out of the window. It is instead something to relish (for the victors), to detest (for the losers), to wonder upon (for the outsiders).
All of this makes picking a winner next to impossible. With Shola Ameobi, who – stat alert – scored 16% of his Premier League goals against Sunderland, now taking a late-career amble in the Turkish second tier, United lack a talisman. Sunderland are in a similar pickle: Fabio Borini, their preferred derby bogeyman with three of his eight English top flight strikes coming in wins over Newcastle, is back on the bench at struggling Liverpool.
In lieu of logic, only #NARRATIVE can take up the slack. Every derby demands a hero and a villain: take Kevin Nolan and Titus Bramble on Halloween 2010, or Jack Colback and Pardew – always Pardew – in the February of last season. Sunday will be no different, and at a stretch there are a few clues as to who they might be. Samuel Ameobi could be inspired by his brother’s proud legacy, or he could collapse under the pressure of his hefty surname. Colback could replicate said performance in his new team’s colours, or he could continue to do Sunderland favours. Josmer Volmy Altidore could do what he has done for the last 18 months, that is, nothing at all, or he could find in the derby the catalyst for something remarkable.
I have no idea. Pardew and Poyet have no idea. Nobody has any idea. And if that makes for a terrible betting preview, then so be it.
Betting Instinct tip – Eight of Sunderland’s games this season have either finished 0-0 (8/1 with AllYouBet.ag) or 1-1 (11/2), and a repeat of one of these scorelines seems likely
KIERAN DODDS is a masters student and writer. He has written about sport, politics and current affairs for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, Africa is a Country, When Saturday Comes, IBWM and others. Follow Kieran on Twitter.