[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough much of the Premier League spotlight this weekend will be focussed on Old Trafford for the meeting of cross-city rivals and two potential title challengers, another local grudge match at the opposite end of the table could well be even more explosive.
The Tyne-Wear derby has been a heated affair in recent years, with dismissals, controversy and a certain Italian manager sliding to his knees on the St James’ Park turf.
This weekend’s clash is set to be just as highly anticipated, but a number of factors make the game even more noteworthy.
Firstly, for hosts Sunderland, it presents an opportunity to become the last club in the Football League to record their first win this season.
The Black Cats have been in shambolic form this season under Dick Advocaat, with three points from nine games typical relegation form and the Wearsiders rooted to the bottom of the table as a result.
Regardless of Newcastle’s status as the club’s main rivals, playing against the Tyneside outfit has been the fixture that has brought the most success for the Stadium of Light side in recent years.
Despite not always being in great form at the time the fixture arrived, Sunderland have won the last five meetings between the teams and have something of a hoodoo over their north east foes.
You have to go back to 2011 for the last time the team in black and white recorded victory in the fixture, with two 3-0 wins for the Wearside outfit on enemy territory since.
The last time the teams met was at the Stadium of Light in May, with a solitary Jermain Defoe goal proving the difference between the sides and extending Sunderland’s recent dominance over the Magpies.
With Newcastle only recording their first win of the new season last weekend, albeit in convincing fashion against Norwich, both teams look like they could be embroiled in a scrap to stay in the division and as such this game is an early-season six-pointer.
Sam Allardyce has been handed the significant task of keeping the Wearside outfit in the Premier League this season and will surely be motivated to start his time at the club in victorious fashion given that he faces his former employers.
The experienced manager spent an ill-fated eight months in charge at St James’ Park before he was unceremoniously axed from his role at Newcastle in 2007-08.
He was not given much time to have a telling impact on the Magpies and was never fully backed by the club’s fans.
Allardyce will feel that he deserved more time with Newcastle and will surely rue the nature of his exit; as such revenge could well be in the air this weekend.
The 61-year-old has become the first man to ever manage both of these regional rivals and will also have to win over the Sunderland fans as a result.
The lack of real credit he received in getting West Ham to their current level will also stick in Allardyce’s throat, as it has only really become fashionable amongst the masses to praise the Hammers for their efforts this season – in truth it was the experienced Englishman who got the ball rolling.
Sunderland’s clash with Newcastle is always one of the most passionate and hard-fought derby fixtures in the English footballing calendar and this weekend’s encounter will be no different.
With both teams in dire need of points and Allardyce’s reintroduction to the Geordie fans in the colours of their enemies, it should be a mouth-watering affair.
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