From The Durham Times: Questions Of SAFC Can Be Answered In The Derby

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Each and every week we provide our thoughts to top local newspaper The Durham Times. You can pick up this fine publication every Friday for just 50p, read it online at www.durhamtimes.co.uk or if you're lazy then wait until it's on these pages and slightly out of date. You should buy it though. Do that net week. For now though here's our thoughts on this weekend's derby game...

When the biggest game of the season (so far) is on the horizon - the Wear-Tyne derby - there will always be nerves in the air and doubts raised about pretty much everything.

It's part and parcel of the drama of the occasion. You wake up every day doing your absolute utmost to not thinking about it and trying not to worry yourself into a mental breakdown, before you slowly realise that telling yourself not to think about it is still thinking about it. It drives you do your wits end.

Along the way questions are continually asked, but the biggest one is constantly avoided. The result seems secondary for the week building up to it as fans - myself included - fret and agonise over the factors which will play a part in the result.

Sunderland have some pertinent questions headed into this one that they'll need to answer on the pitch this Sunday to ensure a rare but satisfying victory over our irritating neighbours to the north.

The first of which is about our front four. Since the arrivals of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher we've been salivating at the thought of them two combining with James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon - however it hasn't all clicked just yet, has it?

Fletcher has been undeniably brilliant, and was a very worthy winner of the Barclays Player Of The Month for September. Adam Johnson has flashed but not been brilliant - at least has has had the excuses of being new, then injured. McClean and Sessegnon however have both been a huge disappointment.

It's become clearer that McClean has been suffering a hip injury and hopefully he can return for the derby game, as in form he's excellent. Perhaps this game, feeding off the energy is exactly what he and his Beninese colleague need to get back into the scintillating form of last season. Between the front four, we only need 3 of them to be hitting the top of their form to be a very competitive side in this league.

There'd be no better time than now for it all to suddenly ‘click'.

Another area of the field which will be key to the game is what to do in central midfield with Lee Cattermole continuing to serve suspension.

The needless red card he picked up against MK Dons provided us a flashback to the Cattermole of old, and national media with yet more ammunition against him, but ask any Sunderland fan and they'll tell you he's been fantastic this season and you can see just how much of an impact he's made on the side by how much he's been missed these past few weeks.

The job seems to have fallen to Jack Colback - Cattermole's trusty partner - and Seb Larsson. It's a situation I'm still not entirely comfortable with.

I'm a huge fan of Colback, and his ability, but he needs an enforcer alongside him. He doesn't seem to be naturally that sort of guy.

Equally, Larsson isn't that sort of guy either and could do with a presence alongside him rather than another player who's more comfortable on the ball than off it.

However the quandary comes when you look at the options available to Martin O'Neill in there. David Vaughan's a decent sitting midfielder, but has only recently come back from injury, and doesn't provide the same mobility that Cattermole does.

David Meyler provides a very intriguing option, and one I'd be very strongly considering for this game only. Meyler's going to put his foot in more than Vaughan and has a much better physical presence, what he lacks in passing he can make up for in the fact he'll sit and protect the back four much better than any of the other options available to us.

The likely outcome however is one I'm not a fan of. Craig Gardner being pushed into a position where he's never played well for us as Phil Bardsley returns to right-back. I just can't see the logic in changing for changing's sake.

And who misses out? It's an incredibly tough call but I'd be tempted to put Colback on the bench. As I've already said, I really admire him as a player, but I think if it's a straight shoot out between him and Seb Larsson, the Swede's set piece ability could win the day, and potentially provide game changing moments.

The only thing I'm thankful for this weekend is that while fans like us here at Roker Report and all others across SR postcodes is that it's not our call to make. We can agonise and push ourselves to the point of a mental breakdown, but at least these aren't our judgement calls to make.

All we can do is turn up on Sunday and hopefully provide Martin O'Neill with the luxury of a twelfth man from the sidelines.

That's a decision that's taken out of O'Neill's hands and the only one we can affect. Come 1:30pm on Sunday it's time to put these worries behind us and believe in a common goal. It's our time, our turn, and with positive thought emanating from 40,000+ Mackems on the sidelines, we can rule the day.

SIMON WALSH

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