A week to remember for James McClean will be complete tomorrow as he takes part in his first Tyne-Wear derby.
McClean made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland midweek to a rapturous ovation and takes on another challenge as Sunderland face Newcastle looking for a first win at St James’ Park in 12 years.
It will be a first derby experience too for manager Martin O’Neill who said: “James has become very popular — and he hadn’t kicked a ball at that time, so I know when he really does well for them, it will be good news.”
The 22-year-old winger expects a very different reception on Tyneside today. McClean said with a smile: “I am expecting that. I know the rivalry now having been there six months, and it’s really intense. But I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait. It’s another experience in my career. They are really passionate about the derby up in the north-east and we will go there and hopefully bounce back from a disappointing defeat (at West Brom).”
Boyhood Sunderland fan Martin O’Neill admits even he did not fully understand the passion of the Tyne-Wear derby before he arrived.
While it will be O’Neill’s first taste of this particular derby, he has a wealth of experience of the Old Firm rivalry from his time as Celtic manager. Indeed, his first derby resulted in a 6-2 victory at Celtic Park which instantly endeared him to the Bhoys faithful.
He said: “The first one I was involved in was a game we played brilliantly in and won 6-2. That was really fine. They are those type of games. The ones that you win, you feel as if they are three times as good, and the ones that you lose, you try to forget.”
Meanwhile manager Alan Pardew has warned his Newcastle players not to expect a repeat of their famous 5-1 rout of their arch-rivals. The Black Cats last headed for Tyneside on October 31, 2010, and left on the wrong end of a drubbing from which the manager Steve Bruce never really recovered.
However Pardew, who arrived at St James’ Park in December of the same year after Chris Hughton’s derby day heroics proved insufficient to keep him in the job, knows a famous afternoon in Geordie folklore will count for little this time around.
He said: “I don’t think that’s significant, really. It was a fantastic result, but we are never going to match that. But what we can hope for is that the performance level will be the same.
“The intensity and the feeling and the way they approached that game under Chris is very much what we want to copy.”
Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse should be fit after recovering from the groin problem which prevented him from joining up with Senegal in midweek, although fellow striker Shola Ameobi is a doubt after missing training this morning through illness.
O’Neill will check on striker Stephane Sessegnon, whose return from international duty with Benin has been delayed by flight problems, while Sebastian Larsson and Nicklas Bendtner are expected to be available after illness and injury respectively with full-back Phil Bardsley battling a calf problem.
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