From The Durham Times: It Was Disappointing, But It’s Done

His Royal Smugness needs to take a look in the mirror. Actually, he'd probably love that.

Ah hello there, time for us to regale you with yet another column we produced for The Durham Times, the premiere newspaper in the North East of England, and perhaps anywhere in the UK.

If you're not already an avid reader, be sure to get yourself to your local newsagents, supermarket or wherever it is you get your newspapers from every Friday to pick up a copy for just 50p.

Failing on that front, you can head on over to The Durham Times' website, a great resource for all things newsworthy in the area. Just visit http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/sport/rokerreport on a regular basis, or even bookmark it, that might be better to be honest.

And if all that is too much hassle for you, or you just can't tear yourself away from your favourite SAFC themed website, then just come here on a weekend and read it when it makes less sense. Without further ado, enjoy our latest efforts...

Another year and another form of heartache thanks to the boys up the road at the Sports Direct Arena. Someday soon we're going to break that particular hoodoo, and we weren't too far away at all this year, let's just hope that something keeps Shola away from the squad for next season's clash.

However, we all know what happened at the weekend. We all know how the final whistle sounded like a defeat, rather than a point gained in an away game at a top-six club. We all know that it was, at times, a fiery encounter and it came as no surprise that someone saw red. We all know that our red cards should have been matched by those of Newcastle's central midfielders, and we all know that the man in charge of Newcastle United should have a good long look at himself in the mirror. We all know all of this, so let's move on.

By creating such a furore after the game, admittedly with good reason, we are proving to Newcastle that they are important to us. In my eyes, following Martin O'Neill protecting his players in an advanced press conference, the matter should be over and done with, and we should instead concentrate on the upcoming Liverpool encounter. They share a similar league position to the Mags, so why pay any less attention to them because of their geographical location?

I realise that no game in a regular season is ever likely to be looked upon by any of us as important as the derby, I'm no fool, and this season's encounter actually served to show that the game itself is getting bigger and bigger. Rarely is there a Premiership encounter, including the other derbies such as Liverpool v Everton and the clash of the Manchester teams so fiery, and the atmosphere, both in the stands and out on the field felt as though it could boil over at any second. Perhaps it is testament to how well both teams are doing this term, who knows? But the game once again proved itself to be one of the finest in the football calendar; perhaps Sky Sports might recognise that fact next time around?

Of course, another reason for us to look forward rather than back is the gaping hole in our team which the derby created thanks to the red cards to Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole, who share an accumulated seven-match ban. While we have a ready replacement for the captain in either David Vaughan or Jack Colback, replacing Sess' is going to provide a much greater task, and could show us just how strong our squad really is. Arguably Fraizer Campbell could step into the breach, with us playing a similar formation, with Nicklas Bendtner again as the focal point in a ‘like-for-like' swap, although O'Neill could also be tempted by the thought of nudging Richardson into midfield, with Bridge filling in at the back. In my opinion, this should be a last resort, as Kieran Richardson has proved himself to be a superb full back this season, and moving him about is the last thing that he needs.

Our players put in a performance to be proud of at the weekend, in the face of extensive provocation and a mediocre refereeing performance, to put it lightly. However, that doesn't hide the fact that we are now three games without a win, and starting to stutter slightly. I'm not for one second claiming that the wheels are falling off Marty's Partymobile, and we have an FA Cup quarter final to look forward to soon, but this stage of the season is going to provide us with some of our biggest tests to date, especially with two such important players unavailable to Mr O'Neill.

It's time to knuckle down and show the rest of the Premier League what Sunderland AFC are capable of. Liverpool will be no easy encounter on Saturday, and with the combined provocation that Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll will be capable of, this is a chance for us to show the world that we aren't the dirty team that we were labelled by Pardew last week.

DAN WILLIAMS

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