SUNDERLAND is to lift a controversial ban on its supporters travelling independently to the Tyne-Wear derby.

The club announced the move as a war of words broke out over the policing of the highly-charged matches between the rival sides.

Sunderland had announced that its supporters would only get tickets for the game in Newcastle on Saturday February 1, which kicks-off at 12.45pm, if they travelled to St James’ Park on free club coaches.

The move was criticised by supporters organisations for both clubs and the Football Supporters Federation who said it branded all fans as hooligans.

But today (Tuesday, January 7) the two clubs have criticised Northumbria Police in a joint statement after the force said it could not direct changes to kick-off times.

The clubs said they had asked Northumbria repeatedly over the years for a traditional 3pm start, rather than the early kick-offs now usual for the encounter.

The statement said: “In recent years Northumbria Police have rejected every request made by the clubs for later kick-off slots including Saturday 5.30pm, Sunday 4pm and Monday 8pm.

“Both clubs have evidence in the form of considerable written correspondence between Northumbria Police, the Premier League and the clubs, which contradicts their statement of yesterday.

“Indeed that correspondence has stated that Northumbria Police would not be prepared to police the evening fixtures requested previously, as well as their confirmation to the Premier League in writing in January 2013 that the force would not support derby matches with kick-off times later than 1.30pm.

“For Northumbria Police therefore to issue a statement stating that they do not direct changes to kick-off times is quite frankly false and absurd - and conflicts with the respectful and responsible manner in which both Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC have engaged with the police over many years with regard to the derby fixture.”

The clubs said they would tell the Premier League that all future derby matches will be available for kick-off times to suit the clubs, the league and their broadcast partners, if applicable.

The clubs stated they would "expect Northumbria Police to police these games, especially given the considerable costs both clubs incur for such special police services”.

The statement added that Sunderland would withdraw the “bubble match “ travel condition but would advise fans “that this is the safest method of travel to St James’ Park”.

Northumbria Police Assistant Chief Constable Jo Farrell said: "As we have said previously Northumbria Police cannot direct changes to kick off times or control the issue of tickets and how supporters travel to matches."