Derby day is like no other

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Every club likes to think its derby is the special one - unique in its own significance, special and passionate for those whose bragging rights are at stake.

Of course, it's difficult to argue against any local derby being important, despite its insular intensity, narrow-minded focus, and restricted overall importance.

A derby is about more than football itself. But, for 90 minutes at least - the result is all that matters.

This weekend sees the coming together of two of the Nort-East's proudest clubs - Newcastle and Sunderland - arguably the two biggest under-achievers in English football.

The Magpies and the Black Cats should have won far more between them over the years, but, unfortunately for the fans, league titles belong in the distant past, so the battle for local supremacy is a 'trophy' that both clubs fight for year on year.

Newcastle's last domestic trophy came with the lifting of the FA Cup back in 1955, and they haven't won a major piece of silverware now for 43 years - the Fairs Cup in 1969.

Meanwhile, Sunderland claimed the FA Cup in 1973, but since that memorable achievement, an entire generation of supporters on Wearside have had nothing to celebrate other than promotion back to the Premier League.

As the two teams lock horns in today's lunchtime kick-off at the Sports Direct Arena, for the first time since the turn of the 21st Century, Tyne and Wear fans have a derby showdown affecting the top half of the Premier League table.

The contest finally boasts some relevance outside the North-East ­corner of England, where the outcome will actually impact on the upper echelons of the top-flight.

Both teams have shown marked improvement - Newcastle under the tactically astute Alan Pardew, who, despite the financial constraints of club owner Mike Ashley, has built a winning team that plays attractive football, and currently lies sixth in the table, six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal in the final Champions League place.

After a poor start to the season which resulted in the Stadium of Light sacking of former manager Steve Bruce, Sunderland have also gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of Martin O'Neill - with an impressive record of 10 wins and two draws in 16 games since he took charge.

The two clubs are separated by only 12 miles geographically, and share the same Metro and train network. But, perhaps more importantly, they are also separated by 10 points in the league - Newcastle currently better off.

Despite the advantage, today's contest could have a genuine bearing on the battle for European places for both clubs next season, and promises to be an encapsulating encounter.

Last weekend we were subjected to a thrilling north London derby clash between Arsenal and Tottenham - the hosts prevailing 5-2 winners - and after the shock 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United by local rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford back in October, we can expect another enthralling game when the two sides meet again in a potentially title-deciding fixture at the Etihad Stadium on April 30.

Liverpool and Everton are still to meet again, after their planned match had to be rescheduled due to the Reds' Carling Cup final appearance last weekend.

The fact that other clubs have had far bigger things to worry about and celebrate over the years, has only attached even more importance to the Tyne-Wear derby.

Newcastle will be hoping to make the most of home advantage as they look to extend their run of four unbeaten derby duels, and go in search of their first league double over Sunderland in six seasons.

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