ALAN Pardew is under no illusions about how important a derby win can be – and points to the August clash between the two sides as evidence.
As just the second game of a new campaign, the Stadium of Light meeting was a chance for both clubs to set the tone for the remainder of their season.
Pardew had endured a difficult summer, with unrest among his squad, sales of key players and an influx of signings largely inexperienced in Premier League terms meaning they were heavily tipped for a season of struggle.
With a number of the old guard that had served Newcastle so well dispensed with, the new boys were instantly put under pressure to deliver. And deliver they did, not with the style and panache of the 5-1 drubbing handed out to their fiercest rivals at St James’s Park, but with a performance epitomising the battling qualities, spirit and togetherness that has been a mainstay of Newcastle’s campaign.
Yohan Cabaye, brought in to effectively replace departed skipper Kevin Nolan, had big boots to fill.
Nolan had written himself into derby folklore with a hat-trick in that epic Halloween game the season before, and many observers believed his absence from a game where English grit is usually needed could be United’s downfall.
Cabaye, however, proved that he could mix Gallic flair with crunching tackles, picking up a booking for a heavy tackle but also testing Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet with a 30-yard effort, as a strong midfield partnership with Cheik Tiote showed signs of flourishing.
Gabriel Obertan was a threat with his pace on the counter-attack, while at the other end, Newcastle’s defence soaked up everything the home side could throw at them as they chased an equaliser to Ryan Taylor’s expert free-kick.
It didn’t come, and instead United went, temporarily, to the top of the league.
Newcastle haven’t looked back since. That start set their stall out for the rest of the season, and while there have been inevitable dips in form since, they head into the return clash against their neighbours sitting pretty in sixth spot, chasing a European spot.
It’s something Pardew would never have realistically dreamed of back in August, and he credits that derby win for giving his side the confidence and belief that they could confound the doubters and have a successful season.
“It showed the character that we had,” the Magpies’ manager admitted.
“It came so early in the season and it was a great lift for us.
“We were a new team and a lot of players hadn’t played in the Premier League.
“For the likes of Cabaye it was his second game, and it was just a massive result for us.”
A massive result for the team, but also a massive result for the fans, giving the fans bragging rights over their rivals for the next six months.
Their superiority is reinforced by holding a 10-point lead over the Wearsiders going into Sunday’s high noon showdown at St James’s Park, a position Pardew wants the Toon Army to enjoy this weekend.
And he insists the supporters have a vital job to do in creating a white-hot atmosphere at Barrack Road for the visit of the local enemy.
“I genuinely feel that our fans are the most important factor of the game,” Pardew added.
“I hope they turn up more in celebration than anything else.
“What I mean is in celebration of the season we’ve had.
“There was the disappointment of Wolves, but we’re 10 points ahead of Sunderland.
“It is a great position to be in, and we want to cap it by trying to win the game.
“We are going to need our 12th man.
“Our fans will have to be absolutely buzzing on the day.”