155th. Wear. Tyne. Derby. Let’s keep this one brief.
Tear aside the modern-ish day-dominance of Newcastle United, and so many of the 154 Tyne-Wear Derby records are held by the Black Cats. There’s the 1887 FA Cup fixture – the first competitive meeting – won by Sunderland. The 1-9 drubbing at St. James’ Park in 1908 – and largest win in the fixture – won by Sunderland. The 1990 Second Division Play-Off Semi-Finals – considered the most important result in the fixture’s history – won by Sunderland.
Or, most recently, the 22-yard blockbuster from Jermain Defoe in April 2015 that secured a fifth consecutive win – for Sunderland. And it’s this famous win at the Stadium of Light that is perhaps the most significant of the modern era. For it is names like Defoe, Johnson and Borini, who have set a trend for Sunderland; as players who are rarely record setters, nor are they great record breakers; however one thing they can be this Sunday are record stoppers.
In fact, these very players have done it before. Take two years ago: in that very second when Fabio Borini booted in his first goal for Sunderland and sunk Geordie hearts, he also ended Newcastle’s long-standing record for the most goals scored in the Wear-Tyne Derby. Later goals from Adam Johnson, Defoe and Borini again have since emphatically decimated the Mags’ stat-grip on their goal haul. As of today it’s: Sunderland 227, Newcastle 223.
Then there are the most consecutive derby victories. Until Defoe rifled in that April screamer, the barcodes boasted a strong stranglehold over that record too; from February 2002 to April 2006. Now, Sunderland are tied with Newcastle at five wins apiece. Another record stopped and matched.
Lastly, there is the big bragging right; one that goes some way to naming the North East’s ‘top dog’. Which team has won the most Wear-Tyne Derby fixtures? Well, right, now it’s Newcastle United. Just. Out of 154 matches – across all tournaments and leagues – the Magpies hold only one win more than the Black Cats, 53 to 52.
And this is the one record Newcastle United can genuinely call upon. For now, anyway. An unprecedented six-in-a-row for Sunderland on Sunday, whilst setting its own new consecutive win record, will finally put a stop altogether to the still-recent dominance Newcastle have had over this fixture in the last twenty-something years. The win record will be even, the goals scored will belong to Sunderland, and so will most consecutive wins.
It sounds too ideal for a season that has been anything but for Sunderland, but it can be done. And, with these current players on Wearside, it is all the more likely too. Fletcher, Borini, Cattermole, Johnson and O’Shea are not the names you’d likely attribute to the team that stopped Newcastle’s derby records, but they have. The truth is, when it comes to the derby, our sorry bunch of oft-useless, hap-hazardous, uncoordinated letdowns have been nothing short of 180-minute-per-season world beaters, amidst season-long spells of general awfulness.
So here we are again. The familiar feeling is coming back. On Sunday, there is no tomorrow again, and for 90 minutes we may just have another fragment of optimism during a maelstrom of disappointment. We’re putting our faith in the players who struggle to convince again and yet, somehow, you know a part of us believes they might just do it, one more time.
Because we know now what these players are really all about. Since the day that Paolo Di Canio dirtied his knees, this has been a group of players who can infuriate us to no end, spoil our weekends and, maybe to some, even question our loyalty. But the Wear-Tyne Derby changes them. We’ve seen it. And heck, our lot might not turn up next week, might lose to a League Two team in the FA Cup, or might not even turn up again until the end-of-season run-in. But they’ll turn up tomorrow; not because they are good players, not because they are a good team, but because – when it matters to us most – they get it.
And, tomorrow, if they show the fight they have before, they’ll be stopping one more record too.