Just another game.
Those were Steve McClaren’s words when asked about the Wear-Tyne derby.
Only McClaren knows it’s not just another game.
Newcastle United’s head coach very deliberately, and carefully, said nothing in yesterday’s pre-match Press conference.
McClaren spoke at length about Sunday’s game against Sunderland at the club’s Benton training ground.
But he said nothing. Nothing at all.
We don’t treat the next game any different than any other, less important, more importantSteve McClaren
McClaren was dressed casually in a club polo top, but there was no casual talk.
Asked about the previous five derby defeats, McClaren, unhappy with some of reporting his Press conference last week, said: “It’s just another game.
“We don’t know anything about the five previous ones and I don’t know, half of the team probably won’t either.
“It’s a fresh game, new game, great opportunity and why should we approach this game any differently than we approached Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Norwich?
“We have to approach every game the same.
“This game is massive for the fans, and I know there is a determination in this club and always will be to get that win for the fans.
“We don’t treat the next game any different than any other, less important, more important.
“They should all be the same, so I would be disappointed if we were asking a little bit more from our players. We are asking this every week.
“The main message to the players is focus, do your job, performance, and the message to the fans is we are focused and trying to win this game for you.”
Maybe Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce will be more entertaining in his pre-match media call today. Maybe not.
But this is not just another game for McClaren or Allardyce. Both know that.
Whatever McClaren has said in public, this is surely one game that he would, privately, like to win above all others.
United, first and foremost, need three points.
The club remains in the Premier League’s relegation zone, and is two points adrift of fourth-from-bottom Bournemouth.
Then there’s the need to end the most embarrassing derby run in the Magpies’ long and proud history.
A win, crucially, would also buy McClaren time from supporters, some of whom remain to be convinced he is the right man to take the club forward.
Certainly, McClaren’s low-key, exactly-the-same approach is interesting.
His predecessors, Alan Pardew and John Carver, did approach the game differently.
They tried different things in the build-up to derbies.
Carver, for example, moved training to St James’s Park before the last derby and asked Fab Flournoy, the hugely-successful coach of the Newcastle Eagles basketball team, to talk to his players before the game.
Pardew also talked of little tweaks to the team’s preparation for games against Sunderland.
Maybe they tweaked too much. Maybe they didn’t tweak enough. United still lost.
McClaren and Allardyce have gone head to head many times in their careers.
But the managerial change at the Stadium of Light doesn’t change anything in terms of his approach, according to McClaren.
Continuing the theme, McClaren said: “It will be good to see Sam again and it’s great that he’s back in the game so quickly. I wish him well – after Sunday.
“The approach for this game is no different. It should be no different.
“Whatever manager it is, it’s the Premier League, it’s the biggest League in the world and you are pitting yourself against some of the biggest managers in the world and in Europe, and Sam is one of them.
“He’s had an excellent career.
“He has great experience in the Premier League and every club he goes to, he does a very good job. He will do that at Sunderland.
“As I say, I hope it takes him a few weeks to get his feet under the desk.
“But, in the meantime, we are just focusing on what we can do and not worrying about the opponent at the moment.”
Allardyce wrote in his autobiography, published yesterday, that he should have got the England job ahead of McClaren in 2006.
McClaren wasn’t biting when asked about his claim.
Smiling, he said: “I didn’t read that bit, and I have got no comment on that one.”
That question was wisely side-stepped by McClaren, who talked of the “relief” he and his players experienced after last weekend’s 6-2 win over Norwich City.
The result, the club’s first victory of the season, lifted Newcastle above Sunderland in the league.
“It was a relief,” said the 54-year-old. “That’s credit to the players and the club behind the scenes.
“I felt that it was coming.
“The club reacted well, despite not winning for eight games.
“We kept calm and carried on with our work. We got the win and we put that to bed. The players deserve a lot of credit.”
But the 153rd meeting between Newcastle and Sunderland will be a very different game.
McClaren said: “We have to play the game and not the occasion.
“It’s a famous old saying, but it’s true – and that’s what we are focusing on this week.”
Maybe the entertainment will be on the pitch at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.