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Captain's Blog: Time For Cats To Start Believing!

In recent years, it simply can not be denied that Newcastle have Sunderland's number when it comes to derby games. It is galling, sickening, and utterly soul-destroying. But I say 'no more!'. I say it is time to draw the line, take a leap of faith - blindly if need be - and start believing.

Laurence Griffiths - Getty Images

In August 1999, I attended my first away derby match at St James Park and was there to see Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips turn around a half-time deficit to sink the Magpies in the rain. Like everyone else who read these pages, it isn't a night that I'll ever likely forget.

For various unimportant reasons, I happened to be in an executive box that night, being wined and dined in the warmth toasting a Sunderland win whilst the home fans trudged home wet, cold, and utterly dejected.

By the time we decided that we couldn't tolerate the stench of the place any longer, the crowd had dissipated sufficiently for us to order a taxi and stand outside the ground and wait to be picked up. As we were waiting, I distinctly remember a Newcastle fan walking past us and saying to his friend "I never thought it would come to this...".

There was no 'banter' or 'craic', or whatever else it is being called these days. It wasn't a comment intended for mackem ears, after all. It was simply an honest expression of genuine disbelief that the derby had been lost, a sense that what they had witnessed that night was a shocking deviating from the accepted natural course of events.

The temptation is to immediately put it down to that famous Newcastle arrogance and propensity for self-delusion. You know, the kind of lunacy that sees claims such as 'eighth biggest club in the world', 'special club', and 'world-famous number nine shirt' emanate from whatever they are calling their ground these days with semi-regularity.

I thought it myself for a while, but then the next 13 or so years happened.

I don't buy for one second that the roots of Sunderland's quite atrocious recent record against Newcastle are in football. Last season's big gap between the teams in the league table has certainly not been the norm over the last few years.

Yet, for some reason, they unequivocally have our number.

It has led me to wonder whether or not the clue about the reason to that lies in that conversation I overheard outside of St James Park. The predominant impression you get from Newcastle in the build-up to the derby is always one of belief.

I can remember when Kevin Keegan believed his team would win so much in 2008 that he announced his whole team to the press days before kick off. By contrast, the best we have ever been able to muster in an attempt to exude pre-derby confidence was Steve Bruce's cringeworthy threat to lead a pre-planned victory sing-song.

What do Sunderland have to combat it? We have hope. Granted, there is the odd daft-lad with plenty of bluster and front, but the overwhelming sentiment from the Sunderland fans I have encountered this week regarding the derby has been one of 'hope for the best, expect nothing'.

Is that where we are going wrong?

Naturally, our record against Newcastle does not exactly inspire confidence. It is the same with Everton. History has taught us in the most brutal possible terms that they are fixtures we just lose and we should probably just accept it.

But I don't accept it. I don't see a single footballing reason why we should not expect to be highly competitive on Sunday. So they have a striker in top form? So what, so do we. So they have a quality young goalkeeper? So what, so do we. So they have an exciting talent on the wing capable of producing a match-winning moment out of nothing? So what, we have two.

I'm not saying for one second that I demand to win the game. I am not even saying I expect to. They are a good side, after all. We have beaten good sides before though - better sides than Alan Pardew's men.

Of course, there is something of a chicken and egg situation here. Did we lose games because of a lack of belief or did we lose belief because we lost games against them? Who knows. It has become a vicious circle, but it can be broken with a leap of faith - I think.

From a personal point of view, I hate the derby. I was brought up in a Newcastle-supporting area and obviously still have a lot of connections to it. The best man at my wedding and the godfather of my son is a born-and-bred black and white and it can create a bit of tension, as you can imagine.

I think more disturbingly, though, is that I hate hating the derby. It is such a brilliant occasion when passions are at their highest and, if we are honest, it is the closest that fans of either club are likely to get to that feeling a game of genuine consequence provides in any given season.

It is time for us to stop hating it. Time to stop hoping for the best and start believing. Why? Because we are Sunderland, that's why!

Ha'way the lads.

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