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Captain's Blog: 'Phoney War' Derby Is Over And The Real Battle Starts Now

The derby is over and now we can all get on with the real battle for Premier League survival.

History records the eight months in Britain between October 1939 and April 1940 as ‘the phoney war'. It was a time when everyone was placed in a heightened sense of alert, relentlessly told they were perilously at war without that period of time producing a single meaningful engagement.

It was something I couldn't help but think about at St James' Park or, for that matter, in the build-up to it.

If truth be told, I've always enjoyed seeing the back of the derby considerably more than seeing it approach.

I've never been one to get giddy with excitement for it. The Tyne and Wear derby is unquestionably one of the greatest spectacles the English game has to offer, despite what the elite-obsessed media who are more interested in figures than football will tell you, but as a fan it looms over me like a cloud.

I don't really get the butterflies or the ‘pre-derby shits' which, I hope, has by now been fully recognised as a legitimate medical issue worthy of credible research and acknowledgement by the scientific community.

Personally, I get affected in more subconscious ways. In the days leading up to the game, I snap at people who are being perfectly lovely to me, I crave bad foods, there isn't a build-up story in the media that I don't take furious exception to and those who had the nerve to bring it into my life.

Last week's derby was not a defeat, but it felt like one. I'd have probably taken a draw before the game, but I suppose it feels wholly inadequate when you felt the victory within your grasp.

All the talk from the media before the game was all about how it was supposedly a ‘must-win, winner-takes-all derby', and that was, of course, a staggeringly vast heap of steaming horse plop. It suited a media agenda of whipping fans into a pre-match frenzy to ensure each and every chunk of digital claptrap they wanted to release nervously, no matter how senselessly derivative, is nervously gobbled up.

A phoney war, in other words - not the occasion itself which is as primal as football could ever possibly get, but the whole illusion around it.

"Pundits have been having their say on the derby. Who does Paul Merson think will win? CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT!!" and all that rubbish.

Well, as it turns out, neither side won the ‘must-win derby' and, as it also turns out, the world hasn't caved in on either. Shock horror.

Both sides are within one win of Norwich in 17th place and both sides very much still fancy their chances, as do the Canaries, of avoiding the drop. So pretty much as you were, then, with Norwich just taking their turn to spend a little time above the water line.

I'm not that bothered by Norwich, though, and care even less about Newcastle's prospects. What I do care about, however, is Sunderland, and despite the disappointment I see no reason to feel despondent about our survival chances.

Sam Allardyce is, for me, making some costly mistakes at costly times right now, mostly surrounding an apparent obsession with getting Dame N'Doye on a football pitch. That, in itself, isn't really a problem for me.

The game we recently did close out very efficiently was done so with N'Doye playing a key role up front, holding the ball, being awkward, and winning free kicks against a desperate defence. That's fine. It was invaluable, actually.

He's not a winger, though, and I find it utterly perplexing that he's seemingly seen as one.

That said, Allardyce is certainly a man you'd want in your dugout in a scrap. He's also got Sunderland picking up points consistently. Not quite enough yet, but in five of the last six games, the Black Cats have finished the game with more points than they had when they started.

Goals, too, are coming more consistently to Sunderland than they are their direct relegation rivals. Allardyce's men have scored eight goals in their last six games, double that of both Newcastle and Norwich in the same period and despite arguably the toughest run of games of any of the sides.

In Jermain Defoe, Sunderland have the most reliable source of goals of all the teams at the bottom, and you could certainly say that as a club we have the edge when it comes to experience of these kind of scraps.

God knows if Sunderland will stay up and I gave up trying to predict this bonkers football club a long time ago, but if I was looking at a relegation rival and seeing a proven commodity for a manager just starting to make them consistently hard to beat whilst also boasting the best striker in the fight, I know I'd be struggling for confidence that we'd out-point them between now and the end of the campaign.

The derby is over. The phoney war has been fought. The real battle starts now, and it's one in which a little belief can go an awful long way.

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