FEW former footballers have more experience of the North East derby than Gordon Armstrong and John Anderson.
The two ex-players boast close to 700 appearances between them for Sunderland and Newcastle in careers spanning the 1980s and 90s and covering more than a dozen derbies.
This week they met up again in friendlier, but no less competitive, rivalry on Mackem and Magpie teams at Houghton Golf Club’s charity day.
And before they teed off, they talked to GRAEME ANDERSON about their derby thoughts.
LOOKING FORWARD TO SUNDAY, LADS?
GA: “Absolutely. There’s nothing the fans anticipate more than the derby and the Stadium of Light will be absolutely buzzing at 4pm, especially with the later kick-off and the fans having more time to get into the spirit of things!”
JA: “Yes, I think the fact there’s been a fortnight’s break between games because of the internationals, has only whetted the appetite more.”
YOU PLAYED IN PLENTY OF DERBY GAMES YOURSELVES, WHAT’S YOUR BEST DERBY MEMORY?
GA: “On a personal level, it was scoring in the derby in 1992 because it was always my dream to score in that game.
“It was the game at Roker Park and my goal from a corner was an equaliser but it was marred by the fact that Newcastle went on to win through a brilliant free-kick from Liam O’Brien - 2-1.
“I wasn’t involved in too many derby wins as a player but the one game that stands head and shoulders above the rest was when we won at St James’s Park in play-off second-leg.”
JA: “My best derby memory is undoubtedly the New Year’s Day win in 1985 when Peter Beardsley scored three goals and missed a penalty.
“It was an awful game and awful weather and Sunderland had Gary Bennett and Howard Gayle sent off.
“But it was fantastic to be involved in such a big win and our fans were in seventh heaven.
AND YOUR WORST?
GA: “It was the Beardsley hat-trick one because nothing went for us and then we had Benno and Howard sent off.
“A terrible day all round and when you lose big, the opposition fans don’t let you forget it.”
JA: “I was only on the losing side in one derby that I played in, so naturally that was my worst.
“It was the big one too – the play-off second leg that Gordon mentioned.
“It was an awful feeling because we had been flying that season and just missed out on automatic promotion.
“We hadn’t done ourselves justice in the first leg but we’d come away with a draw and felt sure we would win at our place.
“It just shows you that you can never predict a derby!”
WHO DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY PLAYERS FOR YOUR SIDE?
GA: “I’m looking to the strikers – Steven Fletcher and Jermaine Defoe in particular.
“Fletcher because I want to see how he performs after getting an international hat-trick under his belt; Defoe because he’s been there and done it and this could be the perfect game for him.
“Adam Johnson has form in the derby but probably the most important player for me will be Lee Cattermole. He’s not the sort of player who wins games on his own but he’s a real never-say-die battler and he can set the tone for his team.”
JA: “For me it’s all about how a makeshift back four works out for us.
“We’ve had injuries and suspensions and the likelihood is that the back four is going to be thrown together to a certain extent, starting with Jack Colback probably playing left-back.
“If we’re going to win it, it’s likely to come down to Ayoze Perez having a sparkling game. He can be real quality up front on his day.”
AND WHO DO YOU FEAR FROM THE OPPOSITION?
JA: “No one has been on fire at Sunderland of late but Johnson, Fletcher and Defoe can be match-winners on their day.”
A BIG GAME FOR BOTH MANAGERS, ALTHOUGH FOR DIFFERENT REASONS...
GA: Yes, both could desperately do with a win but clearly Dick Advocaat’s need is greater.
“He didn’t get the win in his first game that every new manager looks for.
“But he did get an improved performance from the players against West Ham – just as Paolo Di Canio did in his first game at Chelsea.
“Di Canio’s second game was the derby, and so is Advocaat’s, so hopefully history can repeat itself with another derby win.”
JA: “John Carver will have been heartened by the way Newcastle played in the second half of their last game, against Arsenal.
“But he really needs a win now rather than good spells in a game.
“He’s only had two wins in 12 games and if he loses the derby it’s going to make it difficult.
“Win it though, and it will be massive for him.”
WILL HOME ADVANTAGE HAVE A PART TO PLAY?
GA: “I think so, yes. I know it’s the derby and they say form goes out of the window but I don’t think you can discount the Stadium of Light as a factor.
“I also think the fact that it’s a 4pm kick-off and the fans will have been out for some time having a drink will really make the atmosphere intense and intimidating.”
JA: “I’m not so sure it will be that important, Gordon.
“I know you’d expect me to say that but I’d point to the fact that Sunderland have only won a couple of games at the Stadium of Light all season.
“That means they’ll hardly be bursting with confidence being there.
“Many a team has under-performed in a derby in front of a massive home crowd.
“We’ve seen that at St James’s Park in recent seasons and home advantage could work against Sunderland equally as much as it could work for them. “
WHAT’S THE RESULT GOING TO BE THIS SUNDAY?
GA: “I’m going for a Sunderland win because they’ve had that jinx over Newcastle in recent years, and because they’ve got home advantage.
“But whatever happens, I don’t think there’ll be much in it.
“I don’t think it will be a classic. I think it will be a very hard-fought game which could go either way.”
Prediction: Sunderland 1 Newcastle 0
JA: “I’ll go for the opposite, simply because Newcastle have had such a bad run of results in the derby.
“To lose four is terrible but to lose five would be something else again.
“It’s probably going to come down to a game in which one moment, one decision, one gamble decides it.
“I think that the team that is the most motivated, generally does best and I don’t think Newcastle could possibly be better motivated than the desire to stop the current dreadful run.”
Prediction: Sunderland 0 Newcastle 1