We head into this one with far more confidence and spring in our step than in previous encounters, the 6-2 win against Norwich was far from perfect but there were signs that we’re beginning to build an identity as a team and the players in the forward areas imposed their personalities onto the game. That front four of Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Ayoze and Mitrovic looked to have the perfect blend of physical prowess, determination and ice cold composure in front of goal; we just have to hope that it all comes together again on Sunday and if it does I think the Mackems will have a real job on their hands trying to contain us.
On the other hand we come into this fixture having lost it five times in a row, it is undeniable and that very statement has dominated the build up this week. We have a habit of not turning up for this game and the last time we played them the players looked psychologically damaged. This I believe represents the biggest obstacle for us to overcome on Sunday, far more so than the ability of the opposition. Hopefully the change of managerial regime can help to rectify that problem alongside the introduction of a few players new to this fixture whom I can’t see being fazed by the atmosphere one bit, namely Wijnaldum and Mitrovic who as McClaren rightly pointed out during the week have experience of these big games and most importantly doing the business. Mitrovic scored in the first 10 minutes of his debut in the Eternal Derby of Belgrade, he gives a different dimension to our team and could well give us that intensity that has been sorely missing these past few years.
The Mackems have reverted to type and brought in a new manager on the eve of this game, although there’s something about Allardyce that intimidates me less than a Di Canio or even Poyet would. Despite the plaudits shown towards him by McClaren this week (overkill in my view) he’s an extremely conservative manager and in these sorts of games that can give you a disadvantage from the off. I can remember the derby game he managed us in, where we escaped with a 1-1 draw in a match where we were mainly penned in by the newly promoted Sunderland side; Michael Owen played right wing. I may well be tempting fate but I’m not so much worried about what Sunderland can do to us, they are quite clearly low on confidence.
What worries me is that we can beat ourselves as has happened previously, by making silly defensive errors or sitting back and allowing Sunderland to string a few passes together; get their fans excited and gradually feel their way into the game. It’s imperative that we go into this match believing we are a better team and then proving it, putting a lot of doubts to rest. It should hurt those players what has happened recently and the accusations levelled at them in the aftermath should act as a catalyst to prove otherwise. It’s time for them to show some professional pride.
Howay The Lads
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