THERE WAS an “If Carlsberg did derby day” element to life on Wearside last Sunday.
While Sunderland fans were pinching themselves after the previous four triumphs over Newcastle United, things indeed only got better for the fifth victory in-a-row.
We did not talk a lot about the Newcastle game. The focus is on today. We have to do itDICK ADVOCAAT
Almost a week on from his home debut in charge of Sunderland, a reflective Dick Advocaat admits the experience of the Wear-Tyne derby left him ready to drop.
“The players were very tired after the game, but when I went to bed, I was knackered!” the Dutchman told the Gazette. “I was totally exhausted.”
Did he relish that atmosphere though? One, that was arguably as ferocious as the Stadium of Light has created.
In his three-and-a-half weeks at the helm, Advocaat has conveyed an impression of a task-master whose sole focus is fulfilling his remit of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League. He is not trying to cozy up to anyone.
But the reaction of Sunderland fans who had previously witnessed just two home wins all season clearly made an impression on him.
“The atmosphere was great, but the most important thing for me was when we arrived at the stadium before the game,” said the 67-year-old. “They were standing there cheering and you thought ‘we have to do something here’.
“We need them still. We must do it in the home games.
“The majority of teams get the points in the home games. It’s the same for us.
“If the fans do the same as they did as last week and the players feel that, then they can do more than normal.
“Last week, you could see players like (Jermain) Defoe respond with what he did to help the team with his work-rate and then he scored a brilliant goal.”
Not that there has been a great deal of reflection on the derby in the Sunderland camp this week.
The past and future have little bearing on Advocaat’s management – it is all about the present.
Today, Sunderland have the chance to secure back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time this season –an outcome which would take the club to the brink of securing their top flight status.
With Sunderland travelling to Arsenal and Chelsea in the last week of the season too, Advocaat knows that the five games before then will be crucial.
He said: “We did not talk a lot about the Newcastle game. The focus is on today. We have to do it.
“In principle we have five games in which we have to do it.
“We still have a chance in the last two away games, but in principle, we have to do it in the first five games.”
If Sunderland can get the better of Crystal Palace, this may prove to be a pivotal weekend in the relegation battle.
On paper, Sunderland have the most inviting fixture of all the bottom six, with basement boys Leicester City the only other side to face a side outside the top six this weekend.
“I’m a manager who always thinks about my team,” added Advocaat. “But we have to just stay above the last three, that’s the most important thing.
“We have to do think about ourselves, not think too much about what other people do.
“Yes, that can help, but we’ve got to worry about ourselves.”