Derby day is almost upon us and our Sunderland and Newcastle reporters have been holding a live Q&A today ahead of the big match.
Sunderland reporter Chris Young and Newcastle United reporter Miles Starforth fielded your questions ahead of Sunday’s match at the Stadium of Light.
Here are the highlights:
Q) Chris, if you were Sam Allardyce, what tactics would you go for? Attacking 4-4-2 at home?
CY: I’m not necessarily sure I’d go 4-4-2, despite several fans (understandably) calling for Defoe’s inclusion. SAFC have played in this 4-3-3 system for the last couple of years and in the last home game against West Ham, they were absolutely superb for the first half. There’s a few doubts over Borini’s fitness, which could play a part in Big Sam’s thinking.
But I’d certainly be looking to bring back Lens and Toivonen.
Q) Could Newcastle actually win this weekend?
CY: They’ll have to play a hell of a lot better than they did in last season’s corresponding fixture. I do think there’s a mental issue for them after losing five in a row. It similarly hampered Sunderland when they were going through similar bleak spells in the derby. For me, I think McClaren will be happy with a draw after the Norwich win. It would at least stop the derby rot.
MS: Anything is possible in this game, even a NUFC win! But I think the bookies make SAFC slight favourites, and they’re probably not far wrong given their recent record, home advantage etc. The Norwich result alone doesn’t change much for NUFC.
Q) Would you start Jermain Defoe?
CY: I think it’s a really difficult one for Allardyce. On one hand, Defoe is a proven match winner and scored arguably the greatest derby goal ever last season. On the other, will Allardyce suddenly switch to a 4-4-2 when he’s been trying to strengthen the defence. My hunch is he’ll be on the bench
Q) Would stick with the same side that beat Norwich?
MS: I’d be tempted to start with Vurnon Anita ahead of Cheick Tiote. I think that’s the only real decision Steve McClaren has to make. Tiote is short of fitness and sharpness, but he would give the midfield a little more bite. Anita is fit and has a better disciplinary record. I’d guess we’ll see Tiote start, but that’s just a guess.
Q) Will Newcastle United’s 6-2 thrashing of Norwich have any impact going into Sunday’s game?
MS: Hard to say, but the win has certainly lifted the dressing room. It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off the shoulders of the players. Crucially, it proved NUFC can score goals, something which has been a problem all season. The team is in a better place than it was a week ago, That said, defensive issues remain.
Do you think the trend with new SAFC managers winning the derby in their second game in charge will play on McClaren’s mind?
CY: Nah, I’m not sure that will be a factor. I do think the five-in-a-row streak will be firmly on his mind though, despite his claims to the contrary at his press conference yesterday. He knows how much of a boost it will give him with supporters if he can stop the rot.
MS: McClaren, publicly, would say no, it doesn’t play on his mind. But he knows the recent history of this fixture, and he knows the significance of SAFC managerial changes to NUFC’s losing sequence. Also, the managerial change means he will have less idea just how SAFC will line up. Had Advocaat still been in charge, he would have a better idea which way they would go.
And finally, predictions?!
CY: I think it will be tight, particularly because both managers knows their defences are vulnerable. I’ll go for a narrow Sunderland win.
MS: I think it’s entirely possible that both teams will cancel each other out. Maybe both managers would take a point right now. I’d lean towards a draw, maybe 1-1.