There will be more than local pride at stake when Sunderland meet Newcastle in the 146th Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday (1:30pm BST) with both teams in need of three points to spring their seasons into life.
The home side are currently 13th in the table with seven points from six matches. They have a home match against Reading in hand that, if won, would see them into the top ten but it has nevertheless been a muted start to the season for The Black Cats.
The euphoria that surrounded Martin O’Neill’s early tenure last season has since faded due to the realisation that his solid, counter-attacking football often produces dour spectacles. Sunderland have only found the back of the net on five occasions this season, have won just once and have drawn four of their six matches to date.
Their sole win came at home against a Wigan side reduced to ten men early in the second half. Even then, the score-line was just 1-0, Sunderland doing the bare minimum to achieve victory.
Left midfielder James McClean provided the assist for Fletcher in that match, but has generally struggled to maintain the excellent form that he showed in his debut season. On the other flank, Adam Johnson is yet to get going following his £10 million move from Manchester City.
In a system in which little importance is given to possession – Sunderland have the second worst average share per match in the league, at 38% – it is individual sparks of ingenuity from the wide men and second striker Stephane Sessegnon that are supposed to provide scoring chances.
With those players not performing as expected, Sunderland have looked very uninspiring. They have recorded less shots – 6.3 per match – than any other team in division, and managed a measly 1.8 on target per match, again a league worst.
At the other end, the Black Cats have conceded just over a goal per match on average, but have done so whilst conceding the highest average number of shots of all 20 Premier League teams – 20.5 per match. If Sunderland did not have an in-form Simon Mignolet between the posts, one feels their defensive record would be far worse.
Looking to take advantage of potential frailties in the Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea partnership that is likely to be at the heart of the home defence on Sunday will be a Newcastle team who are, like Sunderland, reliant on their primary goalscorer.
Demba Ba has scored six of Newcastle’s eight goals so far this season and has looked far more at home in the 4-4-2 formation favoured by coach Alan Pardew than he did in the 4-3-3 that was so successful for the club in the latter part of last season’s fifth place finish.
Ba scored 15 goals in the first half of last season, but added just one more to his total between the closure of the transfer window in January and the end of the campaign. Moved out to the left forward position, he watched on as his compatriot Papiss Demba Cisse scored 13 goals in 13 starts in the central striker role.
With the move back to 4-4-2, Ba has started scoring once more, but at the expense of Cisse, who is yet to trouble the scoresheet despite starting every match this season.
Newcastle are currently some way below their goals per match average of last season, managing 1.14 per match in comparison to 1.47 in 2011/12. Pardew needs to find a way to get the best out of both strikers concurrently if the Magpies are to again reach the heights of that campaign.
His side are currently 10th in the table, with two wins, three draws and two defeats to their name.
Newcastle have also performed worse defensively than last season – an average of 1.57 goals conceded per match, compared to 1.34 – although this can in part be put down to injuries robbing Pardew of a number of his first choice defence.
Goalkeeper Tim Krul and defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor were all absent for the 3-0 mauling Newcastle suffered at the hands of Manchester United in their last fixture, but the trio are hopeful of shrugging off their respective injuries to take part in Sunday’s derby.
Sunderland v Newcastle Betting Tips Verdict
- We expect this to be a tightly-contested affair with no quarter asked or given. In total, the two teams have drawn seven times in the 13 matches they have played thus far this season and we can see them sharing the spoils again on Sunday. So back the draw @ 23/10 with Bet365, SkyBet, Betfred.
- Both teams have struggled to find the back of the net on a consistent basis, managing a combined total of 13 goals in 13 matches. Six of the last eight Tyne-Wear derbies at the Stadium of Light and 11 of the last 15 at all venues ended with two or less goals. Therefore, it would appear wise to back under 2.5 goals @ 4/5 with Stan James.