We called a brief truce and caught up with the lads over at Leazes Terrace to talk all things Sunderland vs Newcastle
Well, here we go again gentlemen! It's been a relatively solid start to the season from Newcastle, especially as injuries have obviously played a hugely detrimental effect - how do you assess the season so far?
Leazes Terrace: Points-wise it's been solid - but the manner of the performances, particularly in defence, has left much to be desired. Generally, it's frustrating to see the working 433 system of late last season dumped in favour of a 442 to accommodate Ba and Cisse (more on that later) to the detriment of the wider team's performance. There's time to improve but that shouldn't really have to happen - the backroom staff need to have an in depth review of how they prepare for a season.
What sort of impact is the Europa League having? A detrimental distraction or a good opportunity to have a closer look at some fringe players?
LT: It's making me turn up to work hungover far more often than I'd like! It's early days for the EL - we got a very favourable draw meaning we haven't been pressed so far, turning over the apparent main contended in the group (Bordeaux) with starling ease. It has been great for getting players like Bigirimana valuable playing time, but perhaps hasn't been fully utilised in bringing a few first teamers lacking fitness (Cabaye for example) back to scratch. Pardew took unfair criticism for his team selections early on - with some accusations of it not being taken seriously - but there injuries to contend with, and we've not lost any of the 4 games so far. Regardless, I'm certain the selections will change quickly as the games go on.
Speaking of Pardew, that eight year deal... I know he's managed the footballing equivalent of turning water into wine to win over the Newcastle fans last year, but eight years?
LT: I think we were right to be a sceptical at first - I don't think any given fan of a PL club wouldn't have been in the same position. As for the eight years - the big positive for me is the club are making a statement of stability (aye, Newcastle...) but no more. If he's badly under performing it won't save him. I'm yet to be entirely convinced he can take us much further than last years position (albeit - an excellent one) but his knack of keeping players happy and focused is very handy. On that front, he's learned a lot from his Southampton days...
Whilst it must be fantastic to see Demba Ba's impressive start to the season it must equally be a little frustrating that Papiss Cisse has failed to really get going as of yet this term, any particular reason that it seems to be the case that only one out of the two can seem to hold the spotlight at one time?
LT: Bluntly, and personally, I think the two greatly struggle to play together in a 442. There are greater issues contributing to that (i.e. not playing wingers that provide decent, regular service) but the combination of talents seem to be lacking to make them an effective partnership. Cisse is a lethal finisher, when provided with the chances, but along side Ba he rarely gets that. I wrote something for LT site a while ago suggesting the two should be rotated (after all, there's enough games) but there's zero chance of that happening.
Ben Arfa seems a lot more settled this season and his performances are reflecting that - just how good is the little fella?
LT: Easily the most enigmatic player I've seen at Newcastle - when he's on form he's near unstoppable - particularly with the ball at his feet. But he is still more inconsistent than some Newcastle fans would like to admit, drifting in and out of games - in and out of position. In fairness, that's probably because when he's 'in' the game he's patently catching the eye - the home game and goal against Aston Villa being an example. There's definitely more in him - if the coaching staff are savvy enough to utilise that is another question.
Having watched you last time out against Manchester United, defending set pieces seemed to be an area of weakness - was this a one-off or something Sunderland could possibly look to exploit?
LT: Possibly. I've been highly critical of how we've defended and attacked set plays this season but we've not been so easily unzipped as that. The absence of Taylor and Coloccini has undoubtedly caused most of it - Perch tries his heart out but lacks physically, and Williamson is, shall I say, a very blunt instrument. I imagine we'll have worked on set plays since, but given Sunderland's style I'm fully expecting that would be a popular method of attack, either way.
Can you explain Shola Ameobi to me?
LT: I gave up on a definitive answer to that a long time ago... He's both loved and loathed by Newcastle fans. Some think he's just plain lazy and in the past he's been vilified for being our only choice when that's not really his fault. He's always been incredibly inconsistent, but he's always stuck his body completely on the line for the club and, of course, has scored a generous portion of derby goals. Younger brother Sammy is starting to break through now, and simply for having the Ameobi name the grumblers have written him off - but he's a different player all together.
Pardew and O'Neill reportedly settled their differences following their "fiery spat" in the SJP technical area in March... so we can undoubtedly expect round two now then yeah?
LT: Probably! Pardew was plain stupid to do what he did (celebrating the penalty decision - not the goal that didn't follow from the spot) and did apologise but O'Neil appeared to pass it off and I can't see O'Neil moving from his supposed moral high point. In fairness, I think both managers will like to play on it for simple rabble rousing - they may do it in very different ways but both will know the effect it has on the less level headed in each crowd and subsequent effect on the field.
Lee Cattermole, believe it or not, will miss the fixture through suspension. Given the nature of the game I thought he was fantastic in the last derby, especially having picked up an early booking (and subsequent second yellow following the fulltime whistle...). What do you make of our much maligned skipper?
LT: I've got to be honest, I don't rate him greatly. He's an excellent player to have in a scrappy game - perhaps perfect for it - but to me I think you should be looking for more than just blood and guts. Equally, as a captain he can lead well when backs are against the wall, but not when the team needs pushing forward - or indeed when he loses his head. Although I wouldn't directly compare him to Barton, he does share many mental traits. And Newcastle (or myself) certainly don't miss Barton.
Sunderland have been frustratingly disjointed so far this year, however the overriding feeling seems to be that once the attacking trio of James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson get up and running we may just kick on - what areas of the Sunderland side, if any, give you cause for concern ahead of kickoff?
LT: Straight off - Fletcher. I could be disingenuous about the manner of his goals so far but it would be irrelevant - he's in goal scoring form and that can't be ignored. Otherwise, the trio you mentioned I am of course wary of even if they are yet to fully click - the ability is there, always. Johnson in particular I'm curious about - whether his alleged allegiances pose any difference to his performance (and before you shout at me, I'm not expecting it will!) And, last but not least, Larsson's dead ball ability is a real concern.
And vice-versa, how will Newcastle United look to win the game?
LT: Second guessing Newcastle is a tough task at the minute. Personally I'd make sure of a 3-man midfield with Ben Arfa wide right as an outlet. I think there's scope to cause any of your central defenders serious problems if the aerial route is avoided - but somehow I can't see that happening... Otherwise - bring on Shola.
LT: Going to say 1-1. Both teams are very 'drawey' at the minute. And at least 1 sending off.
While you're here, Wonga, a storm in a teacup?
LT: As far as the deal itself is concerned - yes. Straight away I can say I'm not pleased they're affiliated with NUFC, but the number of murky deals around in the PL (*coughs 'Invest in Africa'*) it's misguided to target NUFC only. The issue needs to be raised in a wider sense as to if or why clubs are allowed free reign on who sponsors them. Football may have "lost its morals long ago", but that's no excuse to follow suit, I believe.
Finally, peanuts - salted or dry-roasted?
LT: Bought a bag of salted from Morrisons last week. They weren't salty at all. I'm writing to my MP.
And there you have it, that's the thoughts and feelings of our Geordie friends ahead of Sunday's clash. Many thanks again to Chris from Leazes Terrace for taking the time to call a truce and chat to us. Be sure to follow them on Twitter for all your Newcastle needs should you be that way inclined, they're a canny bunch, for Mags anyway.