The countdown begins. But to what? Pete Sixsmith ponders on the big match. Is that a hint of optimism I detect? …
The day is nearly upon us. The day that we look for first in the fixture list when it comes out. The day that usually comes in October or February. And it’s happening tomorrow… August 20, second game of the season, first home game for us, first away game for them.
For Sunderland supporters, this is a great opportunity to claim early bragging rights, that could last over Autumn, Winter, Christmas and Pancake Tuesday. The team looks solid and has experience of derbies in other parts of the UK. It has to be an advantage – doesn’t it?
We started well last week, with a very good result at Anfield. The opening 30 minutes were not great, but we pulled ourselves back into the game, against a far better side than Newcastle United are.
Defensively we looked ok. Brown and Ferdinand did well and Bardsley was as solid as ever. Left back may be a problem if Kieran decides to pass the ball to their forwards, but if he plays as well as he did in the second half, he should get through without any real hiccups.
If O’Shea is fit, will he make his debut at right back, with Bardsley switching to left? The first of a couple of major decisions that The Brucester has to make.
Midfield is the crucible of this game and the manager’s selections here are going to be crucial. Cattermole and Larsson are definites, but the other two are open to suggestion.
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Like Richardson, Colback struggled at the start last week, but recovered well and had a very solid second. Will he stay in the centre with Cattermole, or will Bruce go for the experience of Craig Gardner?
Elmohamady put some good crosses in, not least the one that Larsson converted, but would David Vaughan’s ability to hold the ball and use it, be more to our advantage?
The other two pick themselves. Sessegnon has impressed pre-season and did well on Saturday. Gyan worked hard for precious little at Anfield, but it was his back heel that allowed Elmo to put in his outstanding cross.
What about the opposition? At the risk of being accused of “having an obsession with NUFC”, I don’t think that they are as strong as we are at the back or up front. Midfield is the area where they will try to boss us with Barton and Tiote quite prepared to battle it out with Cattermole and Colback/Gardner.
That leaves the flanks and it may well be there that the game is won. Larsson and Elmohamady/Vaughan look stronger than Gutierrez and (possibly) Obertan. Get at them down the side and make sure that the ball is played to feet and we have every chance of keeping on top of them.
It’s not an occasion that I enjoy and come 2m I will be pleased that it is out of the way. I am optimistic and I think that we have a better chance of winning than we had last year. It looks a better balanced side that could grow into a good one, if we can put the neighbours to bed early in the season.
Ha’way the Lads …