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Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - First Leg - Stadium of Light

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The mood has been dampened, but Sunderland can reignite it on Saturday

“On Saturday, the Lads do battle with the old enemy from up the road and it's a match that we should relish instead of fearing,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

It feels like an eternity has passed since fate conspired to throw Sunderland and Newcastle together in the FA Cup third round.

It was a draw that sent excitement levels on Wearside and Tyneside through the roof, and it meant we would face the Mags for the first time in any competition since 2016.

The build up to the game in the nationals will consist predominantly of a black and white love in, with all the attention focused on Newcastle’s poor run of form. However, one question has been asked over and over again: ‘Can Sunderland beat Newcastle?’.

My answer? Of course we can.

A lot is being said about how this is a different Newcastle side to the one we last faced.

Bankrolled by a state that’s making strong inroads into washing as many sports as it can and as quickly as it can might’ve given their fans a feeling of entitlement that their already-inflated egos didn’t need, but it’s also turned them into the club that almost everyone else loves to hate.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yes, Newcastle are different than they were eight years ago and they’re not the club they were following that cagey 1-1 draw, but on the other hand, neither are we.

Back then, we were on the verge of meltdown. Our recruitment policy and eye-watering wages led to the club haemorrhaging money to the point where double relegations and near-total financial ruin were inflicted upon us.

In 2024, we find ourselves in the midst a careful rebuild, the like of which we’ve never seen before.

Our data-driven and unassuming approach to transfers has molded us into a good Championship team in a league littered with wage bills far higher than our own.

Newcastle fans waxed lyrical about ‘getting their club back’ following the takeover from a huge financier but in reality, it’s Sunderland fans who’ve got their club back in a far more meaningful way than the delightful mob up the road.

With the countdown to derby day well and truly on, tension and nerves are going through the roof.

Thousands of fans on both sides of the great divide have (rightly or wrongly) labeled this as the biggest game of the season and in terms of passion, nerves, and tension, I think only a playoff final would surpass it.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Judging by the mood on social media, it seems as though many Newcastle fans have become more worried about the trip to the Stadium of Light with each passing day.

Poor form and frustrations at certain players not performing have chipped away at many of the confident predictions made back in December.

On the other hand, we’ve nothing to fear but it does feel as though most of the footballing world will be on our side on Saturday afternoon. A Sunderland victory would be a victory for football, and that’s what all of us want.

The huge gulf between the cost of each squad has also been flagged up in the media.

Our starting eleven during the 2-0 win against Preston cost around £7 million, whereas Newcastle paid £63 million for the services of Alexander Isak alone.

Theoretically, we should be the ones who are worried and although the usual derby day nerves will be there, we’re going up against a side who’ll have the pressure of expectation firmly on their shoulders.

Sunderland might be run amateurishly off the pitch, and only a U-turn in the aftermath of huge swathes of criticism stopped them covering the Black Cats Bar with swathes of black and white garbage, but come kick off, we’ve got to be behind the lads on the pitch and make sure we give these sports washed sell-outs a game they’ll not forget in a hurry.

The players musn’t follow the dire example set by the club, and they can’t roll over to have their bellies tickled by Eddie Howe’s team.

Into them nice and hard from the off on Saturday, boys, and one more thing - FTM.

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