Before each of the last six derby games with Newcastle I've had the exact same feeling in the pit of my stomach. That sickening, gut-wrenching nervousness that sends you to the toilet ten times a day and ensures you'll be getting very little sleep unless you have a few beers to help you along the way. You know what I mean.
For a multitude of reasons, however, I feel even worse about what lies ahead tomorrow. I've barely slept for the past three days, and the mere mention of the game turns me into a gibbering wreck. It's unbelievable what football can do to you.
I just took my match ticket for tomorrow out of my wallet, took a long, deep breath, and then sighed. And you know what? I suddenly feel much better. If me, the supporter, cannot bare to face up to what we have up against us tomorrow at St James' Park, then what chance to the players stand? Man up, for god sake.
We need to hold our heads high. We ALL need to be in this together.
Irrespective of our form in this fixture, this is one game and we can't rely on our successes of the past. The previous six matches against Newcastle mean absolutely nothing.
With each passing game our chances of winning yet again dwindle - law of averages, or so we are told, mean we'll lose sooner rather than later. Surely a team that is as inconsistent as ours cannot keep beating Newcastle, can they?
I say - who can't?
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our Mackem dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility....
Fear not. We're Sunderland. We're the survival experts - summoning our primal instinct and finding our way out of a corner is something we do. For all the large periods of mediocrity and failure, we have shown time and time again that we are capable of being so much better. On Sunday, we need to become just that.
Anything less than our absolute best is unacceptable.
I don't think relegation will be decided on this game - far from it - but it's fair to say that whoever wins will have put themselves in pole position to survive this year. If we win we create somewhat of a gap between ourselves and Newcastle - a side who seemingly struggle to score goals, keep clean sheets and win away from home.
In many respects, this is the biggest game Sunderland have faced in quite some time. What should be comforting, however, is that it's even more important to our rivals. Can they handle the pressure?
....But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage....
With every win you need a fine balance of luck, quality, heart, passion, drive and timing. It just so happens that in each of the last six games between ourselves and Newcastle, we've had more about us than they have.
I'd have been one million times more confident about this game if Steve McClaren was still in charge there, and whilst I fully recognise that Rafael Benitez is taking on an incredibly difficult task in taking over a side lying second bottom of the table, he's still a top quality manager with a proven track record.
That said - so what?
You can only beat what is in front of you.
....Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean....
That pressure to succeed is something the Tynesiders have failed to grasp for quite some time now, and whilst they've spent a relative fortune in order to strengthen their side, the same heartless bottle-jobs that have presided over no Newcastle wins in this fixture in the last nine games remain.
The advantage we can take is that our core of players that have turned up in this game time and time again still remain. The likes of Lee Cattermole, Fabio Borini, John O'Shea and Jermain Defoe have been in these games many times before and have often been the difference.
It's those players that we need to count on if we are to have any chance of winning. The ones who know what this means to the area and the supporters need to set an example and show the other players what is expected of them. You go out there with your chest out, you head held high and your integrity in tact.
You do not give up - you do not allow them to outfight us. It's the least we expect win, lose or draw.
....Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest Mackems.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you....
It's going to be a scrap. We're going into Tyneside as the outsiders, surrounded by thousands of black and white clad mags baying for blood. If we show them who we are early doors, that crowd could become our advantage.
We have to be the bigger men.
We've played some nice stuff recently, but I feel we may need to sacrifice some of that offensive play in order to ensure we do not concede goals and lose this weekend. Lee Cattermole may have been in poor form recently, and Sebastian Larsson may have been injured for a large spell of the season, but I'd have absolutely no complaints if either player started on Sunday.
For me, they represent everything you want from your players when they're being asked to play in a game of this magnitude.
Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko and the rest will not want to be on the receiving end of a hard early tackle, but you can guarantee that if Lee Cattermole starts the game he'll let them know he's there. Can the same be said of Jack Colback or Jonjo Shelvey?
I'm by no means saying we have to kick the shit out of them for ninety minutes - that would be stupid.
We just have to make sure that we are competing in every area for every ball. Every header, every tackle, every set piece - commitment is key.
...Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in Sunderland, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes....
I recognise that both teams are under immense pressure to win this game - more than ever, certainly recently anyways - but we must ensure that we don't lose. That much-maligned clean sheet that Sam Allardyce has been seeking couldn't come at a better time.
If by running yourself into the ground you are only going to play for seventy minutes, then just do it. Don't let Newcastle win any second balls. Make sure we let them know early doors that we aren't going to be bossed around. Take our chances. Force errors. Press high.
Show who we are. Show them why we've been so dominant in recent years. Show them who the better side is. Show them that we aren't giving up our status as a top flight club without a fight.
...I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Ellis, Sunderland, and Big Sam!'
It's really that simple. If we want it more than Newcastle do, we'll win.
We are Sunderland.
Keep the faith.