The question behind my question was posed by the Shields Gazette. Who will finish higher?
The responses of partisan fans are probably meaningless. Which Mackem will say: “Toon, without a doubt”?
And how many Mags would admit they expect to find us uncatchable?
To be fair, the paper did ask a neutral living in South Shields. Jeff Evans, a Manchester United fan, said: “Sunderland do look strong and they should be okay. With Newcastle, time will tell.”
But Sunderland, with the greatest of respect to Newcastle, should be reflecting on headier things than just ending the season above the Mags. They have just come up and therefore, like us in recent times, are lucky if they don’t start among many people’s favourites to go straight back down again.
Toon, theoretically, should be concerned more than anything with just making sure they avoid the drop. Relegation shouldn’t be anywhere near Sunderland minds. We are, or should be, pushing for the top 10 place set a year ago by the owner Ellis Short. And better than tenth.
Ah, but life isn’t as simple as that. We’ve deluded ourselves too often in the past, suffered rather too much disappointment, to take anything for granted. One or two perfectly sensible older supporters have already wittered gloomily about our preparations for the new season, though the return of John Mensah will improve their spirits.
In the wider game, people give barely a moment’s thought to whether Sunderland will finish above Newcastle.
There is no doubt that the question of who ends up as the North East’s top dog gives a buzz to plenty of supporters of both sides,.
I may be in a minority: yes, I laughed at the Mags’ relegation, which helped save us in a season when we were almost as dire as them but also seemed appropriate punishment for their unbearable, “too big to fall” arrogance. But I’m old-fashioned enough to be pleased to see them back – and would, in an ideal world, be looking for Boro’s name on the fixtures list, too.
There was a time – 1908/09 to be precise – when it was possible for a Newcastle fan to laugh off being beaten 9-1 at home by Sunderland because United somehow ended up winning the title.
These days, my own ambitions in terms of Wear/Tyne rivalry are less dramatic: I don’t expect us to win at St James’ Park by more than one or two goals and I hardly think it would be controversial to suggest the title may be beyond both teams.
Showing ourselves to have moved on to a higher level than Newcastle would be nice, but only as a bonus to reaching the closing stages of the season with a respectable chance of grabbing a place in Europe.
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