So the day is here. 2,800 Wearsiders get to visit the big city for one day only, so that’s nice for them. We are managed by Champion of Europe Rafa Benitez, so that’s nice for us. Three points are crucial in the context of our season, the fixture and our future as we need to stay up to keep Benitez in charge. Unlike most derbies in English football, this fixture doesn’t really do draws, so we’ll just have to win it. It’s our turn, I think.
Let’s talk about them first. I honestly don’t know what it will take Sunderland fans to criticise the people “running” their football club. They are absolutely abhorrent. As a club (I’ll come onto that later) and a team. Literally the worst the league has ever seen that hasn’t been relegated. Sunderland have won 32 of their last 143 Premier League games dating back to the start of the 2012/13 season. In the same period we’ve won 42 games – which is still utterly pathetic. Since 2012/13 Newcastle United’s performance on the pitch has been a joke. Incompetent people hired by incompetent people doing terrible jobs and making us all miserable. Yet we’ve won ten more games than Sunderland and six of their wins in this period have been against United. So Sunderland have won 26 of their last 137 games against teams in the Premier League that aren’t Newcastle United. That’s a win percentage of 18% and it’s making Steve McClaren blush. Eighteen percent. That’s what the season ticket money, the shirt sales and any other money Sunderland fans put into their club has achieved against Premier League teams that aren’t in a 14 mile radius. That is a staggering statistic. A win percentage of 18% gets you relegated so Newcastle United have been keeping Sunderland afloat in this league single handedly for almost 4 years.
As I said, Sunderland fans just seem to accept this. There’s no wide spread anger against Ellis Short. Why not? Do they like losing? Year after year after year? ‘Time for Change’ was the slogan protest groups have used against Ashley and the people running the club. What’s the message from Sunderland’s fan base to it’s American billionaire owner. More of the same? The obvious conclusion to draw is that had it been six defeats to their local rivals and the 6 wins picked up elsewhere, Wearside would be in revolt. Only Sunderland fans know if that conclusion has any truth in it. Hiring Sam Allardyce these days is an admission of the fact you’re in the shit in a big way. Ever since being deservedly being laughed out of Tyneside he’s only been hired by desperate clubs. Blackburn were on their way down after the Paul Ince disaster and West Ham had just been relegated. Sunderland were on their knees after the bizarre appointment of Advocaat. To be honest he’s good at steadying a sinking ship, it’s what comes next that is the problem. He may well keep Sunderland up this season. They’ll still be Sunderland and he’ll still be Allardyce. A ‘good fit’.
I wonder what Margaret Byrne makes of it all. She had a canny derby record too. Not that she said much in public, or at
work either from what the club have said. After all, according to her former employer, when she interviewed her employee and he admitted to kissing and grooming a child, no one else from the board, the owner, other employees, players, any of the three managers were told that he had admitted to much of what he had done. No one asked to see any minutes from the meeting. No one asked? I don’t even have the words. Only Margaret knew and it was a ‘serious error of judgement’ to allow Johnson to play on to the adulation of 40k+ plus while the victim, a Sunderland fan, watched thousands ‘support’ him through that incredibly painful and difficult time. It’s tough at the top though. We all make serious errors of judgement, don’t we? One too many pints. Not wearing a jacket to the match. Supporting Newcastle United. However to let an employee who has admitted to sending messages of a sexual nature to a child, meeting up with her and kissing her – that doesn’t seem like an ‘error of judgement’. It seems much worse. The wall of silence from Sunderland AFC has done little to provide answers to Sunderland fans who quite rightly want answers. 99% of Sunderland fans think Byrne and the club have behaved despicably however I wonder if these lads (in the footage included below) will be at the game on Sunday in the away end singing ‘he’s done nothing wrong’.
This isn’t points scoring, I have no idea how those running United would have reacted in the same situation but considering their ability to do the absolute wrong thing in every situation (most recent managerial appointment aside) suggests some form of wrong decision could have been made. A minority of Sunderland’s support think there is no case for Short to answer. A smaller minority think there is some form of media vendetta from journalists who’ve posed the very same questions as I have. Sunderland Football Club contacted true faith after the derby in October asking me to pull down a podcast where we raised the question of Adam Johnson’s celebration for Sunderland’s first goal. Adam Johnson gave Sunderland assurances his celebration was not in any way relating to anything other than goading the Newcastle United fans at the other end of the stadium 105 metres away, but not in any specific way. Seems reasona….nope. This is the same Adam Johnson who a court of law has deemed a liar and the SAME ADAM JOHNSON who had told SAFC that he had kissed a 15 year old and sent her whatsapp messages of a sexual nature. Yet here I was in October taking down our podcast recorded by fanzine lads who all support Newcastle United. What a mess and a permanent stain on all those involved.
Enough of that though, this is supposed to be a match preview and the in between discussing registered sex offenders, Sunderland and Sam Allardyce there has not been any actual football mentioned and we’re 1,000 words in. Sorry.
Monday was miles better. I was there and it wasn’t a brilliant performance, but it was a performance which is more than can be said for our last seven away games, and pretty much all before then as well. Benitez had 48 hours with them, know he’ll have had 8 days. Not enough time to turn us into a northern version of his two time Valenica La Liga winning side, but expect to see a sustained improvement in United in an attacking sense. Monday was good for all the wrong reasons. We pushed Leicester all the way. we managed to win the ball back regularly and defend quite well. All of those improvements shouldn’t be improvements at all. They’re what should be expected not applauded. However for a team that had won 5 of it’s previous 26 odd away games without doing most of those things in most of the games, it was massive progress.
The game for Benitez comes at a difficult time with fitness doubts over several first team players. Colo owes us so much for October, and missing all the other derbies before us. Colback will likely have to play left back which is good news for whoever plays on their right. I’ve no idea where Tiote is or if he’s injured, but I’d start him or Saivet over Anita. We need some bite in midfield. I thought De Jong played really well when he came on the other night, but Winjaldum will get the nod behind Mitrovic. That only leaves a decision between Townsend and Perez for the other wing position. Considering Perez is not a winger and Townsend is, I’d start the latter. We need pace in the side as without Townsend it is sorely lacking. This being Benitez’s first home game, I don’t really know what to expect, though I imagine he’s preaching patience to the players. Derbies are rarely won in the first 20 minutes of games. There’s no need to go all out attack and then forget how to play like we used to under Pardew.
Cisse may be back -if he is – he should start ahead of Mitrovic. We really need to score some goals. I worry that we have to score really, really good goals to score at all. We’re going to have to play the ball in Sunderland’s half of the pitch as I expect Sunderland to sit deep and counter, rather than frustrate us with a possession based game like Bournemouth did to great effect. Allardyce normally loves a big man up front, so he plays them on the wings instead, just to be safe. This can create a lack of width and concentrate attacks centrally. That’s probably a good thing, right?
Set pieces remain a worry with Sunderland possessing decent takers of a corner or free kick. On Monday we didn’t look like conceding bar set pieces and I expect Allarydyce to have spent his two weeks without a game to be drilling the side on this aspect of their game. On the road this season Sunderland have recorded two wins from their 15 away games. Victories at Palace and Swansea had huge slices of luck. Last time out they came within a whisker of an incredible result at Southampton (against ten men) only to be denied in the last minute. Defoe is a threat and has quality. We must mark him out of the game.
The crowd will be onside. I dread to think how this game would have turned out under McClaren. However it is Champions League, Europa League and Club World Cup winner Rafa Benitez in the dug out. Benitez never lost to Everton at home as Liverpool boss and has also won 8 of ten games against Sunderland, losing just one to a goal involving a beach ball. I back him over the man who said openly on television that he ‘does not like’ our manager. Sam Allardyce released a biography last year (not that many noticed) where he went out of his way to criticise Benitez. Benitez’s response when asked?
Do you know who Sam Allardyce is? Do you know how many trophies he has won? Well that’s my answer. It is what happens when someone has a book to sell. His opinion does not have a lot of value.”
Rafa Benitez’s Black n White Army.
Prediction: 5 1 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
For those that are interested, following the derby at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season, we raised questions about the manner in which Adam Johnson celebrated his penalty kick goal against United following the incorrect sending off of Coloccini (a red card that was later rescinded). We asked why Johnson chose to run the length of the pitch to celebrate his goal despite being surrounded on three sides of the stadium by Sunderland supporters. We asked if the manner of Johnson’s celebration, where he appeared to mimic the flight of an aeroplane and if that was meant as an offensive goading gesture towards Newcastle United supporters in reference to two of our supporters killed in flight MH17. Our support had loudly abused Johnson throughout the game in reference to as then outstanding legal proceedings involving sexual offences against a child. Johnson gestured on several occasions following his goal towards the away end. The question was raised by The Daily Telegraph in their reportage of the game too but under pressure from Sunderland AFC removed articles from their website. At no time was true faith was ever threatened with legal action and indeed our dialogue with Sunderland was always polite and affable. We were assured that Adam Johnson had promised the gesture was not meant to offend in any way. In light of those assurances we edited the podcast to remove reference to Johnson and published clarifications online here whilst never really being convinced to be honest.
Subsequent events mean the character and integrity of Adam Johnson should not have been relied upon so heavily by Sunderland AFC in the action they took with The Telegraph or indeed us.
For those interested in reading the pieces published at the time we’ve included them here for you.
Thru Black & White Eyes – MALADJUSTED – 25/Oct/2015 click here
Johnson article No.1 – click here – GOAL CELEBRATION
Johnson article No.2 – click here – CASE CLOSED
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