Newcastle United will play Sunderland Sunday in what will be the first Tyne-Wear Derby of the Gus Poyet era for Sunderland. Last time these teams met, the SMBs prevailed by a score of 3-0. Newcastle will be looking for revenge. Sunderland will be looking for their second point of the season.
The biggest news for this fixture is the possible reemergence of Sunderland defender Wes Brown, who was expected to return from a lengthy absence at the beginning of the season before injuring his knee. He hasn't played for the senior squad in 21 months, though he did make an appearance for the U21s this week. To say that he's the last hope for turning the mackems around may be a bit of hyperbole, but not by a whole lot.
Newcastle will of course be without Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who is serving his red card suspension for taking down Luis Suarez in last week's 2-2 draw with Liverpool. The Toon were given a break when he was only suspended for one match, but the back line is exceedingly thin. It was reported earlier in the week in an Independent story that featured no quotes from anybody that Fabricio Coloccini might be out until Christmas, but now the club is saying that his groin injury might not even keep him out this week. Newcastle are also waiting on fitness news from Steven Taylor, who is nursing a hamstring injury. If neither is able to play, we may see a Mike Williamson - Paul Dummett pairing up the middle. Whatever you think of Jozy Altidore, he's strong and capable of holding up play, which is exactly the kind of player that could give that couple fits.
We are a partisan blog, so of course we won't let Sunderland's flying start go unnoticed. They're not going to end the season with just one point (probably), but it's fun to point out the obvious while it's still there to point out. If you haven't yet checked out ThingsThatHaveMorePointsThanSunderland.com yet, take a look. Among the items listed are Stephane Sessegnon's driving record, a toothpick, and a Weight Watchers Mediterranean Pasta Salad.
So that's all hilarious and completely justified, but it's also worth noting that the pink club hadn't won in 9 straight matches when they came to St James' Park and won 3-0 last season. The cliche about throwing out the record book works in this case. Form guides are mostly irrelevant. That's even more true for this fixture.
Stretch of Doom
Both teams have a #StretchOfDoom of sorts, though to be fair any stretch of games featuring Premier League teams is going to be tough for the mackems (can't stop won't stop). I'm not really interested in what they have after this one, save for the entertainment value, so let's just take a look at Newcastle's next couple of weeks:
30 Oct - Manchester City (H) (League Cup)
2 Nov - Chelsea (H)
10 Nov - Tottenham Hotspur (A)
As our resident hillbilly Jim says, now is the time to make hay while the sun is shining. I suppose it might be dangerous to run a hay baler in the dark.
Newcastle fans are feeling decently about the club as of this moment (but ask us again in about half an hour). Their position in the top half of the table is rather precarious, though, given the amount of teams that are within just a couple of points. The two league matches coming up next are not impossible, but they are difficult. The difference between the teams fighting for relegation and the ones perhaps dreaming of Europe is that the latter take care of business against the teams they're supposed to beat. Sunderland are bad. That's not just trash talk. If Newcastle can't get it done this weekend, whatever place they find themselves in in two weeks' time will be well deserved.
Alan Pardew named Cheik Tiote as his captain for the first time last week, and the Ivorian international took the role seriously. He was a vocal presence and also had one of his best matches in quite some time. The Tiote - Yohan Cabaye pivot was everything it was meant to be. If Newcastle can reproduce that sort of chemistry and play a possession game in midfield, that may be enough to squelch Sunderland's best hope - an emotional match in front of a crowd thirsting for Magpie blood. A scoreless half might just be enough to extinguish hope from the hearts of supporters, and perhaps the players as well. An early Newcastle goal would turn the environment hostile.
Gus Poyet will no doubt have taken note of last week's pseudo-false 9 with Hatem Ben Arfa up top, a tactic that seemed to work because the Reds were completely unprepared for it. A return to a more conventional lineup with Papiss Cisse at the fore would be most welcome. Even if he doesn't recapture his elusive goal-scoring form, his presence will allow both HBA and Loic Remy to thrive.
There's no predicting this match. It's hard not to feel confident, given the contrasting fortunes of these teams thus far, but anything can and will happen in the Tyne-Wear Derby. I predicted a 2-1 victory for the good guys on the podcast, so I'll stay with that. This will be closer than it ought to be, perhaps. My nerves are already shot.