From The Durham Times: O'Neill's Derby Debut Gives Cats A Fighting Chance

Craig Gardner was the only one to come away with a smidgen of respect in the West Brom game, but will he be the derby day hero?

Hello all, it's about time we dished you up our latest effort for The Durham Times newspaper, quite possibly the North East's finest newspaper, and I do not say that with a gun to my head, not at all.

Anyway, you can get your hands on these articles on the day they're actually published by buying the paper. It's only 50p, and there's much more than just us in it, with local news and entertainment spilling all over it's pages. Make sure you start buying on a Friday!

Or failing that head on over to their website via this link and read it there - clickety click - and check out all the other great articles filling up the website on a daily basis.

Or if you're too goddamn lazy to do any of that, just read the below and promise you'll do it next week...

Well, the Tyne-Wear derby has finally arrived. I must admit, until last week I hadn't really given it a thought, it always seemed way off in the future.

Perhaps I wasn't alone in this feeling, as for anyone who was at The Hawthornes on Saturday gone will have seen eleven players who either had just an off-day, or themselves had one eye on this weekend's big showdown.

The West Brom "performance" was abject, and the result was no worse than we deserved for the effort put in.

You could almost smell the fear Lee Cattermole had of getting booked, and missing this weekend's derby from the Smethwick End. He wasn't the only non-performer however, and perhaps only Craig Gardner could come away from the game in my opinion with his head held high, and even then maybe only at 90 degrees.

The rest should be ashamed.

At half-time O'Neill rung the changes, and they were positive ones, but when the third goal was stroked home we were out of it.

Martin O'Neill did make interesting points in defeat though, stating if things were the same another week, he'd have done exactly the same. I'm not sure I'd want him to do exactly the same as it was perhaps a little too gung-ho, and ultimately lead to our undoing.

At least though he went for it. I'd bet my mortgage on the fact that if we'd still had Steve Bruce, the performance would have been just as rubbish, but we'd have tried to consolidate and hold on to a 2-0 defeat.

At this moment in time, where we're in a decent league position, and have a potential of four meaningful games left this season (Newcastle, Everton and potentially two further FA Cup ties), there's no reason not to try a few things.

I hope more than anything, that the weekend gone was our thrashing or terrible performance for the season (under O'Neill) out the way. Better to do it then than this weekend!

I've felt strangely fine all week about this game. I'm sure my stomach will be in bits come Sunday lunchtime, but as of the moment there's nothing too much to be worried about.

I'll hold my hand up and say Newcastle are far exceeding expectation this season, and are doing very well, but we're a changed team now from the one they encountered earlier in the season, and if they think there's more of the same to come, they're in for a big, big shock.

From that dark day in September there's no Ryan Taylor to fire in freekicks, no Joey Barton to wind us all up. No Asamoah Gyan to miss a rather large hat full of chances, and there's unlikely to be an ineffectual Ahmed Elmohamady.

Lest we forget most importantly there's no Steve Bruce and his ‘confusing' tactics and rants, to paraphrase Craig Gardner this week.

As the O'Neill revolution is in full effect, we've beaten bigger and better sides than Newcastle. Arsenal and Manchester City spring to mind, whilst there were very credible performances put in against Spurs and Chelsea.

Our form has seen us rocket up the table, and indeed the current form tables, both home and away. Meanwhile Newcastle have remained relatively stagnant, just kind of enjoying their early season good form and hoping to cling on to a European place at best.

There's also the small matter of Martin O'Neill's record in derbies. He never lost one with Aston Villa against cross town rivals Birmingham City, and whilst at Celtic he enjoyed even greater success. The Northern Irishman lead The Hoops to seven derby victories on the bounce, not to mention in his very first Old Firm game his side came out 6-2 victors.

There's every reason for us to be confident going into Sunday.

If the players at the weekend had one eye on this game, then now is the time to prove why they were abysmal in defeat at West Brom.

Now is the time for them to prove who really is the North East's number one team. A time to show the whole world that the Martin O'Neill revolution is for real, and a chance for individuals to go down in local folklore.

There'll be nerves on Sunday, in the bellies of both players and fans alike, but it wouldn't be derby-day without them. All things considered though I'm confident about this one, here's hoping the players are too.

SIMON WALSH.

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