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Murphy: Pride of the North-East is at stake.

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From ESPNsoccernet: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/feature?id=48...os2&cc=5901

 

The pessimists would say it is the last game either Roy Keane or Sam Allardyce needs. The managers themselves would undoubtedly say it's perfect timing for the 138th Tyne-Wear derby.

 

Followers of both Newcastle and Sunderland will be approaching Saturday's game with the usual bluster of banter and barracking, but though they may not openly admit it, there will be more than a little trepidation.

 

The Magpies stumble into the game on the back of a listless reverse at Reading and an alarming capitulation at the hands of Portsmouth.

 

After collecting just one point from their last five games, including a lacklustre defeat to a poor Manchester City side on Monday, Sunderland will hardly be approaching the game with brimming confidence either.

 

It's a measure of how thin the dividing line between joy and despair is in the North East.

 

After Newcastle's demolition of Spurs two weeks ago Big Sam was toasting the 'Toon' and their best start to a season for a decade.

 

Then in four first-half minutes Pompey sucked all the optimism out of St James' Park, reducing the home support to a vicious mob, noisily decrying tactics and substitutions.

 

The defeat even spawned the first lines of speculation on his job, with Sunday's red-tops crediting Mike Ashley with an interest in Mark Hughes as a replacement, an accusation swiftly rebuffed by chairman Chris Mort.

 

Since the opening day victory against Spurs, Sunderland have picked up only five points from a possible 33.

 

While there is no question the ranks are still largely behind Roy Keane, there are audible murmurings from fans who remember similarly poor starts in the Premier League under Peter Reid and Mick McCarthy.

 

Still, what better way to turn things around than with an emphatic win in arguably England's most passionate derby?

 

This is unquestionably the game that both sets of fans look for first when the fixtures are released, not Manchester United or Chelsea.

 

As much as both the red-and-whites and black-and-whites have taken immense delight in the plight of each other's teams for years, you won't find many who deny having both teams in the same division is a blessing.

 

Talk to fans from either side and they'll say the same thing, 'I don't mind them lot being in the same league as us, as long as they just scrape relegation each year.'

 

The North East is always referred to as a 'hotbed of football' yet rarely does the Tyne-Wear derby get the attention or respect it deserves.

 

Most fans would agree the Rangers Celtic derby wins hands down in terms of passion and fervour, but it's always Tottenham versus Arsenal, Liverpool against Everton or the Manchester derby that seems to attract the bigger headlines.

 

It's a mystery to those in Tyne and Wear, who have witnessed drama unconfined in previous years, and who have some of the loudest supporters in world football.

 

Sadly for Middlesbrough, neither Newcastle nor Sunderland count games against the Teesside club as a real derby, even though those clashes still up the intensity level a notch or two.

 

No, there's only one real derby in the region; it's the Mags v the Mackems, and whether at its inception or in the here and now, it is never short on tension.

 

The bitter rivalry has its roots in the 1600s when the cities took opposing sides during the English Civil War.

 

Newcastle triumphed in the first competitive fixture, on Christmas Eve in 1898, winning 3-2 in Sunderland, and a Good Friday clash in 1901 had to be abandoned when 70,000 fans turned up at a St James' Park with a capacity of only 30,000.

 

The 1908 battle was famous for an amazing 28-minute spell in which Sunderland scored eight goals on their way to a 9-1 win, though Newcastle had their revenge by winning the league that year.

 

Perhaps the most controversial encounter came in the old Division Two play-offs in the 1989/90 season.

 

After a goalless draw at Roker Park, Sunderland won two-nil at St James'.

 

Eric Gates netted the second with just five minutes remaining, prompting a pitch invasion by incensed Geordies. Only after a fractious 40-minute delay was the game finally concluded.

 

Things were very different when Newcastle went to Roker Park in the 92/93 season, Kevin Keegan's team securing an 11th consecutive victory of the season thanks to a last gasp Liam O'Brien free-kick that has gone down in Geordie folklore.

 

Despite not having beaten Newcastle at home since 1980, the Black Cats can claim one of the most memorable victories in the Premier League era, in 1999, when the game went ahead despite a typical, and torrential, Tyneside downpour.

 

Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn (now chairman of course) stunned a drenched Gallowgate faithful by bagging a goal each in the second half.

 

The fans had already been shocked to discover embattled boss Ruud Gullit had played his last, and reliably pitiful, hand as beleaguered boss by dropping Alan Shearer from the starting line-up.

 

The Dutchman was sacked after the game, and Shearer was reinstated as undisputed heavyweight champion at the club.

 

He may have won the battle with Gullit, but the following year Shearer failed to outdo Thomas Sorensen - the Dane saving a last-minute penalty to give Sunderland another 2-1 victory.

 

The last top flight Tyne-Wear meeting was also dominated by the Newcastle number nine.

 

He chalked up his last ever goal for the Magpies from the penalty spot shortly before an archetypal derby-style reducer called time on his career.

 

A second half transformation saw Newcastle, and Glenn Roeder, run out 4-1 winners, despite having trailed at in the interval.

 

Now two new managers of these famous old clubs get their first taste of the rivalry that engulfs the region twice a year.

 

It's a nailed-on certainty that both Allardyce and Keane will send out teams fully aware the first 20 minutes is less about talent and skill than sheer willingness and desire.

 

A win for either side will erase all the fixtures that have gone before, and provide a timely boost for both campaigns.

 

Lose and a cloak of gloom will descend on the unfortunate city, and the season will become an uphill struggle until the reverse fixture.

 

At a ground recently voted the loudest in the Premier League peaking to the equivalent of a jet engine report the experts should one set of stripes triumph, their season will finally have lift-off.

 

Murphy is one of the few on ESPN who actually knows anything about north-east football, and also wrote an article about the departures of Solano and Dyer. The article really emphasizes the importance of the derby to both sets of fans. I dare say most Premier League clubs don't value their derbies quite as much as we do. He's right about a win for either side providing a tonic - we can both then say, "Oh, it's not so bad after all, at least we beat the Mackems/Mags." What happens in the event of a draw though? I think a draw looks worse for us - for us this is a must-win game, for them it's a must-not-lose game.

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Id take a draw like. Though we should be up for it given our last display, will be interesting to see just how they do react. We have the better side player for player, but we're just not clicking. What they lack in skill they make up for in tenacity and that could be our undoing. I reckon it will be close like. Cnts.

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