IT is a derby that has produced more than its fair share of indelible images, and from a Sunderland perspective, plenty have come in the last few editions.

Kieran Richardson bending a free-kick into the top corner. Jermain Defoe unleashing an exorcet of a volley at the Stadium of Light. Paolo Di Canio sliding on his knees to celebrate on the touchline at St James’ Park. Come half past two or so this afternoon, perhaps it will be Michael Beale creating his own magical moment that will go down in derby folklore.

“A couple of people have mentioned Di Canio’s knee slide this week, to be honest,” said Beale, as he looked ahead to his first taste of the Wear-Tyne rivalry, less than a month after taking over as Black Cats boss. “Jermain Defoe has obviously played in the derby, and I’ve spoken to him about it too.

“Would I do my own celebration? I can’t tell you what I would do if we win! It would be fantastic for us to win the game. We’re going into the game fully concentrating on trying to do that, and if we do, then I’m sure I won’t be the person doing the silliest celebration. I’m sure there might be a few in the stands in front of me doing that.”

If absence makes the heart grown fonder, then going almost eight years without a derby game certainly heightens the pre-match emotions on both sides of the divide.

A generation of players has passed through both Sunderland and Newcastle without getting to experience the unique demands of a derby day; there will be plenty of supporters inside the Stadium of Light this lunchtime getting their first taste of the fixture that has done so much to define what being Sunderland instead of Newcastle, or vice-versa, really means.

“I’m living in a hotel at the moment, and there were New Year’s parties going on this week, so one or two people were maybe a little bit more open in terms of telling me what they think once they’d had a beer or two,” said Beale. “What was the message? ‘Make sure you win that one next weekend’, that was pretty much it.”


Beale relishes the weight of expectation that has been piled onto his shoulders in the last few days, and is no stranger to the bearpit atmosphere of a game that has the potential to shape a season.

He spent three years at Rangers working as Steven Gerrard’s right-man, overseeing a prolonged period of success over Celtic that saw Rangers prevent their rivals from claiming what would have been a tenth title in a row.

In his year as Rangers head coach, things were more difficult, but he still was able to celebrate one Old Firm victory, with the meetings between the Glasgow rivals providing him with an invaluable insight into what is needed to win a derby game.

“I was involved in 18 or 19 Old Firm games as an assistant or a coach, and had many a good day, and one or two that you’d like to forget,” he said. “You’re never sure going into the game, but what you try to do is prepare the team as best you can.

“Ultimately, the players go and play, and it’s important you stick to your beliefs and what you’ve been doing beforehand. The big thing is that you don’t change for your opponent – you go in and play to the strengths of your players and believe in the work you’ve been doing. You need big players to step up on the day, and big moments to make things happen. Hopefully, that’s in a red-and-white shirt at the weekend.”

Beale was also involved in huge Brazilian derbies during his six-month spell on the backroom staff at Sao Paulo, so he is unlikely to be fazed by the prospect of stepping out of the Stadium of Light tunnel alongside Eddie Howe later today.

He accepts Sunderland’s position in the Championship means they will start as underdogs against a Newcastle side that were playing Champions League football as recently as last month. However, he also knows that derby days are one-off events that can lead to unexpected outcomes.

“With all the European and international football now, we can forget about how much the derbies mean to people,” he said. “Not having one for more than seven years, we’re going to see that in the stands and around the city. You’re really going to feel it.

“It’s a feeling, isn’t it? It’s the feeling and relationship you have with your football club and the people who play for it, and the derby is what it’s all about. It has to be in the right way – there’s a lot of respect around this rivalry – and everyone who’s involved in it is very fortunate.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Patterson; Hume, O'Nien, Ballard, Alese; Neil, Ekwah; Bellingham, Pritchard, Clarke; Rusyn.