SUNDERLAND HOST Newcastle United this weekend in the first Wear-Tyne derby of the season – one which could well be looked upon with great significance next May.
With Martin O`Neill`s side still only having one won Premier League match this season and coming off the back of a humbling 3-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City prior to the international break, this is undoubtedly a match of great significance for the Black Cats, irrespective of the opposition.
For Alan Pardew and Newcastle it`s been a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor`s show`. The Magpies have, thus far, failed to hit the heights of last term and despite a reasonable start to the new campaign they have been unable to display the imperious form they showed at the beginning of last term.
Sunderland have a less than enviable record at the Stadium of Light against their nearest and dearest – just one victory since moving to the SOL – memorable goals coming from Djibril Cisse and the recently-departed Kieran Richardson securing the win in 2008.
Pardew has been reluctant to tinker with his squad too greatly this season, adding just a handful of players to the core unit that remains from last season, the emphasis emphatically on developing younger players for the future with a theme of austerity central to the additions made during the transfer window.
Gael Bigrimana was one such example, the Burundi-born midfielder has quickly made the right impression on Tyneside having signed from relegated Coventry City for a nominal fee. Having established himself as a regular part of Andy Thorn`s matchday squad in the Championship last season, the 18 year-old has quickly set about doing the same at St. James` Park, featuring predominantly in the Europa League and domestic cup competitions.
In March of this year, Bigrimana earned the distinction of being named ‘Kitbag Apprentice of the Year`, beating Reading`s Jordan Obita and Crystal Palace`s Jonathan Williams to the gong.
The one major outline for the Magpies this summer saw Vurnon Anita arrive from Ajax for £6.7m after a fairly lengthy chase.
The versatile Dutchman – who can play down the left-hand side or in the middle of the park – spent seven years with the Amsterdam club, making of 100 league appearances for the Dutch giants.
Born in Willemstad in the Netherlands Antilles, Anita has represented the Netherlands at U17, U19, U21 and now senior level, collecting three caps since making his debut for the Oranje in 2010.
Striker Demba Ba has been like the heavily stereotyped ‘new signing`, having scored his first Premier League goals for the Tynesiders since February. The signing of Papiss Demba Cisse had seen the Senegal international sidelined somewhat, but with his international strike partner now the one struggling for goals, Ba has seized the initiative and notched six goals already this term, amid continued speculation surrounding his future at St. James`.
One definite piece of good news regarding Ba, and Cisse for that matter, is that neither will travel to the African Cup of Nations this January after Senegal crashed out 6-2 to Tiote`s Ivory Coast in qualification amid disturbing scenes.
Pardew will have a number of injury issues to contend with, both Dan Gosling and Shane Ferguson are doubts whilst the key trio of Tim Krul, Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini could make their returns after returning to training recently. Ryan Taylor is definitely out after rupturing the ACL in his knee.
Sunderland will assess the condition of Adam Johnson after the winger returned to action inauspiciously against Manchester City. Carlos Cuellar has declared himself as fully fit, whilst Phil Bardsley could return to the side, which would allow Craig Gardner to move into midfield in place of the suspended Lee Cattermole.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O`Shea (c), Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Larsson, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Newcastle United: Harper; Simpson, Coloccini (c), Taylor, Santon; Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Tiote, Gutierrez; Ba & Cisse.
Referee: Mr M Atkinson.