More than pride at stake in derby

IT was the same old story for us at Eastlands, unfortunately. There was plenty of effort, we passed the ball well and didn’t play too badly, but for what seems like the umpteenth game running, it counted for nothing.

We’ll not kid ourselves that Manchester City are a team we should be beating, but it’s clear to see what £40million (€57.3m) should be buying you in terms of quality. Where we lacked that little bit of composure and experience, they had it in abundance.

Hopefully it’ll have given Roy a few ideas what to spend the kitty on in January.

A nippy striker would be nice — at present Kenwyne Jones is putting in a lot of effort, but with little support and subsequently no reward. He’ll soon feel frustrated at this and with clubs like Liverpool apparently sniffing around him we need to be worried.

Again the evidence was there that our back line needs to be improved. Ian Harte was unspectacular but solid on his full debut. However, when Darius Vassell has the beating of your defenders both for speed and skill, then you need to worry.

Stephen Ireland isn’t exactly known for his lung-busting forays into the box either, so how we failed to pick him up in the centre for the goal remains a mystery too.

We move on from the City game though and now look forward to the biggest match of the season against Big Fat Sam’s unwashed hordes. Whilst most fans look on the fixture list to see when they’ll play the big teams, for us the clashes against little old Newcastle are that ones we anticipate eagerly.

It’s strange that a team who haven’t won a single trophy in over half a century should capture our imagination so much, but the rivalry between Wearside and Tyneside is as fierce as there is in Britain and local bragging rights for the next few months all hinge on Saturday’s result.

It’s one of the few derbies in the country where the two opposing teams are from different cities, both with very different outlooks. Away from the field, the rivalry can be traced back to the English civil war, where Sunderland fought for Cromwell and the Geordies supported the crown. Even before that, King Charles awarded Coal Trade Rights in the 1600s to Tyneside, meaning livelihoods on the Wear were lost, as were lives.

Within the last hundred years, Sunderland’s heavy industry has been taken away. Even more recently we’ve seen our city centre’s needs for regeneration ignored, with prime real estate land being untouched for years, while millions of pounds have been poured into Newcastle. Considering that, population wise, we’re the biggest city between Leeds and Edinburgh, you can imagine our frustration.

With all their government grants and newly-built city, there’s a feeling that the Geordies look down their noses at us, something that even former Sunderland players themselves have acknowledged. Despite their money, we still have a bigger city with less crime.

They brag of being cultured, but in terms of music they’ve contributed little. They have Sting; us, The Futureheads.

On the pitch, we’ve won six top-flight league titles to Newcastle’s four and remain the last team from the North East to win a major trophy with our FA Cup win in 1973. The importance of the match cannot be underestimated. In 1999 Ruud Gullit relegated Alan Shearer to the bench for our clash at St James’, which they lost. The Dutchman resigned three days later.

We were in a similar position to our current one when we won that game on Tyneside, at the same time in the season, languishing in the bottom half of the Premier League. The boost it gave the players was so huge that we went on to finish in 7th place that season, so the importance of this match cannot be underestimated.

If Roy Keane can muster a win against the dirty barcodes, it would provide the perfect platform for us to go on a much-needed run that would propel us away from the drop zone. With three of the four teams below us parting company with their bosses, form at the bottom of the Premier League is sure to improve. We need to make sure we start picking up wins so that they don’t leave us behind.

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