The North-East derby will be a scrappy affair
Sunderland and Newcastle will clash this weekend in a fierce North-East derby as both teams look to build on positive opening day results.
The Magpies were able to hold Arsenal to a goalless draw at St James’ Park in a controversial game that saw Gervinho sent off and Alex Song retrospectively banned after incidents involving Joey Barton.
Sunderland perhaps had the more impressive result coming from a goal behind to hold a rejuvenated Liverpool to a one-all draw at Anfield, with a spectacular Seb Larsson volley cancelling out an earlier Louis Suarez header.
The early arrival of the derby game has had both sets of fans watering at the mouth, with thousands of fans queuing outside the Stadium of Light to get their hands on tickets when they were released for sale little more than a month ago.
Both teams have brought in new faces as they try to improve on the mid-table obscurity that befell them both last term.
Sunderland are likely to start with a similar back-line to that seen at Anfield, although they will wait on the fitness of John O’Shea, who could be brought in to replace Kieron Richardson at left back after an unconvincing display last week.
Who will win the first derby match of the season?
Newcastle are also having problems at left-back and look significantly weaker on the left after the departure of Jose Enrique to Liverpool, and wide men Ahmed El-Mohamady and Larsson will be working hard to expose Ryan Taylor down the flank.
Newcastle’s defence will not worry too much as Collocini and Stephen Taylor should have little problem dealing with the aerial threat of Sunderland’s lone front-man Asamoah Gyan, and even less problem with the 5'6" Stephanne Sessegnon, who will play ahead of the midfield to support Gyan.
The Benin international will threaten the Newcastle back-line with his ability to run with the ball and pick out the right pass, and Sunderland will be most dangerous when attacking with numbers from midfield.
Shola Ameobi will be looking to extend his record of four goals in four games against the Black Cats, although Sunderland new boy Wes Brown was in fantastic form at Liverpool last week, and the Champions League winner should have little problem dealing with Ameobi this week.
Demba Ba will be looking to make an impression after a disappointing start in black and white, and he could use his strength and aerial ability to create opportunities for himself or others, something Sunderland will need to be weary of.
The real battle will take place in midfield, with Lee Cattermole, Chiekh Tiote, Johan Cabaya and Joey Barton all having fearsome reputations they will be looking to uphold. It is likely that fireworks could fly, and with this in mind Steve Bruce may decide to give a first start to Craig Gardner in place of youngster Jack Colback. Gardner is no stranger to derby matches, being a central part of the Birmingham team in many East Midlands derby matches. He will also provide a more attack minded approach in the centre, something many fans will deem essential when playing at home.
Both teams are likely to start the game with some caution, but Newcastle will be eager to get their noses ahead early because Sunderland are notoriously difficult to beat if they can get in at half time either ahead or with a clean sheet. In the latter stages Newcastle will be all too weary that Sunderland scored during injury time in both fixtures last season.
With a packed stadium getting behind a fresh and energetic Sunderland squad packed with new signings, Sunderland will have to go into the game as favourites. Even though Newcastle have a far superior record in recent years, Steve Bruce seems to have finally built a Sunderland team that at least looks superior to their North-East rivals on paper, but the game is played on grass and by two o’clock on Saturday it will be a lot clearer who has the stronger team.