Regardless of whether you consider Sunday’s clash with Middlesbrough a ‘derby’ or not, one thing is absolutely guaranteed: it’ll be a full-blooded, breathless affair.
Since dispensing with Chris Wilder’s services and hiring Carrick they’ve catapulted themselves up the league table and are looking like genuine contenders for promotion.
Throw in the fact that we’re now managed by a Boro legend in Tony Mowbray, and the game will be set against a fascinating backdrop.
Over the years encounters with the Teessiders have produced plenty of memorable moments.
From Emerson’s thunderbolt in 1997/1998 to the late Daryl Murphy winner that ultimately secured Premier League survival in 2007/2008, these matches are rarely dull and the latest installment will doubtless be similar - not least because Mowbray and his players will be eager to even up the score.
During the corresponding fixture at the Riverside, the home fans turned the stadium into a cauldron of noise and emotion and we didn’t quite adapt to that, particularly after losing Ross Stewart to injury barely twenty minutes before kickoff.
His absence seemed to spook us, and the resulting defeat was fairly limp.
With that in mind there are some lessons to take from Saturday’s game against Swansea that we simply have to put into practice when we kick off on Sunday. On a side note, let’s also hope that the game is officiated by a competent referee, instead of someone who picked up his qualifications from the inside of a crisp packet.
I’ve always felt that players can be slightly too passionate at times on occasions like these. As soon as they step over the dividing line between competitiveness and recklessness, as Luke O’Nien did on Saturday, you’re asking for trouble.
We want to see commitment and wholehearted play, but you’ve got to pick your moments; to be able to judge when to make a challenge and when not to, and how to control your emotions when things don’t go your way.
O’Nien’s tackle was clearly borne out of frustration at Keith Stroud’s incompetence, but he’s an experienced pro and his major error was giving the referee a decision to make. The protestations of the visiting players helped, too, but Stroud shouldn’t have been given a chance to reach for a card - and that was solely on O’Nien.
Do that on Sunday and we’ll find ourselves in trouble, and the visitors will almost certainly cash in. Middlesbrough might not have any out-and-out wind-up merchants in their ranks, but they’ll be in our faces and keen to see exactly how resilient we are.
It’ll be a challenge to win the game with eleven men, but if we fall into the same trap as we did against Swansea it’ll become almost impossible.
We need to play with composure and discipline.
Given the youthful profile of our squad and the likelihood of 40,000+ expectant fans roaring them on that might be easier said than done, but it’s where the older heads need to set an example and ensure that their younger teammates aren’t overeager to make an impression.
Trai Hume’s thumping tackle on James McClean was a pivotal moment during the trip to Wigan but ‘getting the crowd up’ doesn’t always equate to doing what’s best for the situation.
If Sunderland’s players have genuine designs on a playoff challenge this season their mettle will be tested regularly.
We owe Boro one after the Riverside defeat - and if the fans and the players can feed off each other in a positive way, victory is certainly achievable.