There is nothing like a victory in a local derby to kick-start a spluttering season, which is why the meeting of Sunderland and Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light on Sunday takes on a little extra significance.
What is always one of the most keenly tested and vitriolic fixtures in the football calendar (cue a load of patronising cliches about ‘how they love their football up there’) will have an added edge as, put simply, both teams can’t afford to lose this given the starts they have endured so far.
With expectation as high at both clubs as it has been for some time – Sunderland because of Martin O’Neill and some good summer transfer business, Newcastle because of their brilliant campaign last year and the retention of their standout performers – what has been served up so far has been disappointing, in terms of both level of display and points tally.
The Black Cats have started this season like they finished the last – struggling to win a match. After losing their FA Cup quarter-final to Everton in March, Sunderland downed tools and took just five points from their last eight Premier League matches, winning none of them, to limp home in a fashion that looked unlikely after O’Neill had reinvigorated the club upon his arrival in December.
This season has begun in similar fashion, with the Wearsiders sitting in 13th place after just one win from six games, meaning Sunderland have won just one of their last 14 games – a worrying statistic that O’Neill needs to address sharpish if questions aren’t going to aimed towards the manager.
Things don’t look a whole lot better at Newcastle, either, with the Magpies enjoying an odd campaign. As ever, off-the-pitch shenanigans from Mike Ashley continue to make headlines (after the club’s sponsorship deal with controversial money lender Wonga, Alan Pardew has promised the players will give 4213%) but what is happening on the pitch will also concern fans.
Newcastle are in 10th and probably lucky to be that high up the table. Two fortuitous wins (at home to Tottenham and Norwich) have allowed the Toon to sit more comfortably than they should, because the spark of last year has not returned.
Finishing fifth once again was always going to be tough, but Newcastle, by Pardew’s own admission, have been a shadow of the side who were so effective last season and with both of these arch-rivals in need of a big derby win that would spark their season into life, Sunday’s match is going to be lively, to say the least.
And at the prices, the draw has to be the shout. That outcome is an 11/5 chance, which has much more appeal than either the 3/2 on Sunderland or the 9/5 on Newcastle.
The two teams aren’t winning enough games, or scoring enough goals, to make a good enough case that either will pick up all three points. As mentioned, Sunderland have one win in 14, while Newcastle have two wins in seven and a host of stodgy performances under their belt and what’s more, both sides are too reliant on one man for goals.
It is a strange paradox that while Demba Ba and Steven Fletcher are at the top of the scoring charts, their respective teams can’t find a goal elsewhere. Literally in Sunderland’s case: Fletcher has scored all five of the Black Cats’ goals so far this season, while Ba has six of Newcastle’s eight.
With firepower lacking, neither side can be trusted, although Newcastle retain the better players and were they to fire, Sunderland would find it difficult. I just don’t see enough evidence that this will be the case.
So at 11/5 the draw it is, especially when you see that four of the last eight meetings have finished all square. All those matches have finished 1-1, which is 5/1 and also a decent shout.