Miles Starforth: Why history will be on Newcastle’s side at the Stadium of Light

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren

In a way, Newcastle United will have history on their side at the Stadium of Light, strange as that may seem.

Teams just don’t lose six derbies in a row, do they? That just doesn’t happen, does it?

Georginio Wijnaldum

Georginio Wijnaldum

The club’s recent derby record – five successive defeats – is appalling. Absolutely appalling.

Newcastle’s record against Sunderland used to be a source of pride on Tyneside.

Now it’s a source of embarrassment.

But United will need to lean on more than the law of averages at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

It’s said you can’t buy time, and you can’t. It’s finite, shared and marches on unstoppably. But in football you can, and McClaren’s players can buy time at the Stadium of Light.

And they must be anything but average.

Unlike Sunderland, Newcastle, at least, are off the mark in the Premier League, but the 6-2 win over Norwich City, as good as it was, changes little on its own.

The club remains in the relegation zone, and Steve McClaren’s defence – and defending of the team as a whole – remains a concern, as does the form and leadership of Fabricio Coloccini.

Coloccini has led the club to just one derby success in his four seasons as captain.

Cheick Tiote

Cheick Tiote

Sunderland know, as bad as they are in the final third of the pitch, that they will get chances. That’s a given.

There will be blood. And there will be sweat and tears. And there will most likely be a goal or more.

Neither team looks capable of keeping a clean sheet.

And if Sunderland go ahead, history also tells us that United will struggle to get back into the game. It makes for an interesting opening, as the first goal could be all-important.

Sam Allardyce

Sam Allardyce

It’s been three years since Newcastle led in a derby. Yes, three years.

Remember Yohan Cabaye’s goal at the Stadium of Light? Hatem Ben Arfa broke down the right in the third minute and played in Demba Ba, whose shot was blocked by Simon Mignolet. Cabaye, very precisely, swept home the loose ball.

United were all over Sunderland when Cheick Tiote, fouled by Jack Colback seconds earlier, caught Steven Fletcher with a high challenge in the 25th minute. He was off.

Had he stayed on the pitch, there would have been only one winner.

As it was, Sunderland levelled four minutes from time with a deflected goal.

Newcastle, sadly, have never been the same since.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

Aleksandar Mitrovic

The losing sequence should have ended at St James’s Park last December, but then-manager Alan Pardew, in his desperation to win a derby, went for it and made three attacking substitutions.

Pardew, for all his faults, knew what the fixture meant to Tyneside. He got it. Maybe surprisingly, not all managers do. But he got it wrong that day.

And Sunderland’s Adam Johnson took advantage in the 90th minute.

So five games – and five defeats – later, here we are.

United, undoubtedly, have problems, but so do Sunderland.

Both teams are poor defensively, but Newcastle, at least, showed they can score goals against Norwich. In Georginio Wijnaldum, they have a player who, much like Kevin Nolan, can be in the right place, at the right time in and around the box.

Nolan – who could yet follow Sam Allardyce to Sunderland – knew what was needed to win a derby.

And the developing midfield understanding between Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko has heartened fans ahead of the fixture, though the latter player has all too often gone missing in derbies.

Supporters can also take heart from the emerging partnership between Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez up front.

But Mitrovic, like Tiote, plays on the edge.

And discipline is a another concern for United, who have already had two players – Mitrovic and Daryl Janmaat – sent off this season.

History also tells us that Sunderland’s pre-derby managerial changes have worked in their favour, so will it be any different for the club under Allardyce?

Allardyce, first and foremost, will want to stop United playing. He likes his teams to stop the opposition before they start playing themselves, and McClaren may be tempted to tweak the 4-4-2 formation that proved so successful, at least in the opposition half, against Norwich.

Allardyce will invariably congest the midfield, and in doing so attempt to deny Wijnaldum, Sissoko and Perez the space they crave.

We may find out more later today, when McClaren holds his pre-match Press conference.

The club’s head coach briefly spoke of “breaking the hoodoo” after the Norwich game, but he will talk about the game at length in a small room at Newcastle’s Benton training ground.

Allardyce – who will sit down with the media on Wearside tomorrow – used to sit at the same table as United manager.

I still pity the journalist who waded through the tape of a 20-minute Press conference – only to be told Allardyce had been sacked after the last word had been transcribed.

McClaren, unlike Allardyce, is more or less on time for his Press conferences, and the game itself is timely for the 54-year-old, even though he would probably rather the first derby of the season was nearer the end of the year.

A win would change everything for McClaren – and Newcastle.

Before the Norwich game, he was under intense pressure – the bookmakers had him as the second-favourite for the sack – and McClaren was acutely aware that fans were questioning his appointment.

It’s said you can’t buy time, and you can’t. It’s finite, and marches on unstoppably.

But in football you can buy time, and McClaren’s players can purchase plenty more at the Stadium of Light.

The derby has become something to be feared on Tyneside, but this occasion must be embraced. It’s an opportunity, and it could be a historic one.