“Usually that’s our trick. We change the manager two games before, then we lose the first one and then we win the derby. They copied us.”
Not the words of a nervous Sunderland supporter, but those of Black Cats forward Fabio Borini, who will represent the Wearsiders in the north-east derby this weekend.
It’s a scenario that benefitted the Italian’s current boss Sam Allardyce, just as it did Dick Advocaat and Gus Poyet before him. Even Paolo Di Canio has a Tyne-Wear win under his belt, though his triumph came in his first match at the helm, not the second.
Recently-appointed Newcastle chief Rafa Benitez is looking to follow in the footsteps of the former trio of Sunderland chiefs, having lost on debut at Leicester last time out.
Should the Magpies’ perceived mimicry of their arch nemeses yield victory, it’ll snap a sequence of six straight Black Cats wins in this fixture, while it’ll also stir up the survival skirmish.
The Tynesiders are a point adrift of Sunderland going into the fixture, as the fierce foes battle each other and Norwich City for the final Premier League survival berth.
Victory for the underdogs would see them insert a nice buffer between themselves and the team the punters deem to be their biggest threat to staying afloat, but Benitez’s derby record says they’ll be sucked beneath the men in black and white.
Win, Lose or Draw
The Spaniard’s relationship with his opposite number is one of many interesting subtexts here and there’s no doubt Big Sam would take great pleasure in plunging a long-term enemy deeper into the mire.
Their feud was first established when the Englishman was manning the Bolton Wanderers rudder, where the strong-arm approach he employed (in the opinion of Benitez) enabled the Trotters to pick up a few points at the expense of the Champions League winner’s Liverpool side.
The entirety of these points came at the Reebok Stadium, however, with Benitez sweeping Allardyce in each of the Anfield encounters v Bolton. The Reds won both home ties against Blackburn Rovers when the latter were under the Sunderland chief’s guidance too.
In the Merseyside derby, he won four of six home games against Everton, drawing the remaining two, while he took eight points from 12 inter-London affairs staged at Stamford Bridge during his temporary Chelsea tenure.
When at Napoli – who contest the Derby de Sole (Derby of the Sun) with Roma, as the two most followed/successful Italian clubs based outside the north of the country – he overcame the Giallorossi in both Serie A meetings contested at home.
Only once has Benitez been beaten in a home derby since taking the Liverpool reigns, which came courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty in a 1-0 Milan win over at Inter in 2010/11.
With such an overwhelming record and the deployment of Sunderland’s acclaimed strategy for north-east success on side, it’s impossible to look beyond Newcastle here.
Recommended bet: Newcastle to win @ 11/10
No team in the Premier League have contested more games to contain at least three goals on their travels than Sunderland, who have played out just five road fixtures with two goals or fewer in.
Similarly, 57% of Newcastle’s home matches have favoured the over-lovers, with the previous four at St James’ seeing four, one, three and six struck in reverse order.
Four of six renewals of this clash have surpassed the 2.5-goal mark too.
Recommended bet: Over 2.5 goals @ 11/10
Who’s Going To Score?
If Sunderland want to prevent Newcastle successfully ripping off their sack-the-manager modus operandi, they best play the man who discovered what the Magpies were up to.
Fabio Borini has struck in both of his Tyne-Wear derbies.
For the hosts, Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic have accounted for 57% of the Toon goals scored at St James’ in 2016.
Recommended bet: Borini to score any time @ 11/4
The typically-tight ‘will both teams to score?’ market contains two eventualities – yes or no.
‘No’ is the longest odds offering at 87/100, a price far higher than it should be given that it has landed in four successive Tyne-Wear tear ups.