From The Durham Times: Disappointing Derby Shouldn't Instigate Negativity

Stu Forster

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just 50p, read it online at www.durhamtimes.co.uk or if you're lazy then wait until it's on these pages and slightly out of date.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...

So, the derby has been and gone. Once again, Sunderland failed to get one over on them up the road, but the negativity that has been coming out of some areas of the fanbase seems unnecessary.

Admittedly, the match itself was disappointing. We never really got going, and the match didn't really seem to live up to the inevitable hype that surrounded it. Yohann Cabaye's entirely avoidable third-minute goal didn't really help matters either.

However, salvation wasn't far away, and it came in the form of Cheik Tiote, who was sent off for what was incredibly the first time in his Newcastle career. The midfield ‘enforcer' has built up quite a reputation on Wearside, be it for tackles that don't even warrant a card when Lee Cattemole would have been seeing red for the same infringement, or his over-the-top theatrical reaction to pretty much anything else. So, his tackle on Steven Fletcher, whether it was malicious or just mistimed, wasn't going to garner any sympathy from the Stadium of Light crowd.

What was most disheartening after the red card though was Sunderland's inability to carve out any clear-cut chances. Although Fabio Collocini was superb at the back for the men in black and white, it still made painful viewing to see our front four struggling to click, and Steven Fletcher casting an isolated and lonely figure in front of the Newcastle back line.

But, our constant pressure paid off, and it was Sunderland's second-highest goalscorer in the league this season, Demba Ba, who deflected the ball into the net, leaving us relieved to escape with a point (it could have been all three near the end), and just glad that we don't have to play Newcastle again for a fair few months.

The criticism levelled at the team though is unjust. We have lost just one game this season, and that was at the home of the Premier League champions, who could have blown anyone away with the form that they showed in that clash. At this stage last season we had already been beaten by Newcastle, Chelsea, Norwich and Arsenal. Admittedly we had won one more game, but we'd also played more, thanks to this season's Reading match falling foul of the weather.

While we may not be scoring many goals - Sunderland's shots on goal tally this season is among the lowest in the top leagues in Europe - we also don't lose matches, and that shouldn't be sniffed at.

Few Sunderland fans would argue that it is worrying that our exciting front four of Sessegnon, Fletcher, McClean and Johnson are yet to find any kind of form as a unit. Fletcher has been invaluable, but the others have struggled to find their rhythm. Perhaps all that the players need, and Martin O'Neill needs, is to get back to basics.

Our system hasn't worked in seven games that we've played this season - although it has bared fruit in the League Cup - and it wouldn't be surprising to see O'Neill look at changing things, whether it be the formation or personnel for our visit to the Brittania Stadium to face Stoke at the weekend.

With Phil Bardsley back in contention, it may prove to be time for him to return, with Craig Gardner slotting into midfield, a position that O'Neill has championed him in the past. Gardner has become something of a minor cult hero on Wearside recently, overcoming his reported homesickness to interact with fans on Twitter, and take time to wind up Newcastle supporters while he's at it. Don't be surprised to see O'Neill thrust him further up the field, and rely on him for a goal threat, rather than his defensive capabilities. With captain Lee Cattermole almost certainly being restored to the starting XI, he will be happy to sit back and let the Birmingham-born midfielder to get forward and influence the game further up the field, and it might finally be the central midfield pairing that we've been searching for this season.

We all know that it will be a tough task away at Stoke. It always is, and teams more successful than us are regularly happy to escape with a point. But Sunderland picked up six points against the Potters last season, and if something in the squad clicks, be it the current front four, or perhaps replacements such as Louis Saha or David Vaughan, then we should go to the Potteries knowing that three points this time around are by no means out of reach.

DAN WILLIAMS

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