O'Neill, The Thinker, Knows How To Win These Games.
As the derby game approaches this weekend, our emotions are all over the place. There's moments where you think we'll win and win handsomely, then as the days progress and game draws closer we all start to soil ourselves with anticipation, fear and general anxiety. Sometimes even all three.
I'll be exactly the same, which is why I've written this, to basically give everyone a read on why I think everything's going to be fine. It should serve to both fire us up, and keep us from forming a queue at the Wear Bridge.
So sit back, relax, and read our ten reasons why everything's fine and we're going to turn the Mags over this weekend...
1. Martin O'Neill Isn't Steve Bruce
The last few humiliations we've suffered at the hands of them lot have all been under Bruce. 5-1 away, 1-0 at home whilst others came in very bad teams (barring 2008). It's become increasingly clear that Bruce would send out a team, and sort of hope for the best. I can see the notion of "let them worry about us" but unfortunately we haven't been a team others would worry about for a while.
O'Neill has shown his ability so far to adapt to situations. For instance dropping an on fire Fraizer Campbell against Stoke City and keeping the ball low. Also against Arsenal in the cup, Lee Cattermole's surprising return and dominant midfield performance. All things considered, we've now got a thinker of a manager, who not only knows how to get the best of what's at his disposal, but which players are better than their marker on the pitch.
2. O'Neill Is Also Better Than Pardew
I'll give Pardew credit for doing a decent job with them this season, but 99 times out of 100, class will out, and we've got the classier and better manager in this situation.
Look at the CV's of both for a bit, O'Neill won more as a player, with one club, than Pardew has in his entire career as a player and a manager. On the managerial side though, for Pardew we're left with two play-off wins and a Johnston's Paint Trophy with Southampton. Meanwhile O'Neill is level pegging on play-off wins, and has two Football League Trophies. Oh, not to mention 4 league titles and 6 cups.
3. We've Got A Mean Defence
We've been a bit leaky at the Sports Direct Arena in recent years, obviously the 5-1 springs to mind, 3-2 a couple of years prior and so forth, not to mention it's the one week of the year that Shola Ameobi comes out of hiding and reminds people he's a footballer.
Despite our defeat earlier in the season, we were still finding our feet, not to mention we had Steve Bruce playing down, then playing up, then playing down again what this game is all about. No wonder they seemed off and slightly confused as to what they were supposed to be doing.
Anyway, things have certainly been tidied up at the back, as we boast one of the toughest back lines in the league. Barring the abysmal display at The Hawthorns, it's been one which has never conceded more than two goals, and has never lost by more than a one goal margin.
Whilst there's worry about Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, there really ought not to be. Sure they're quite good players, but think about it for a bit. Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Emmanuel Adebayor and many more have all been kept quiet, whilst Robin Van Persie, who scored against us twice earlier in the season, recently spent two weeks in John O'Shea's back pocket.
Nothing to be overly worried about here.
4. We've Got Better, They've Got Worse
Since the dark day back in Augst when we were beaten 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, things have improved immeasurably for us, as for Newcastle? It's been more of the same with a slight down-turn.
Whilst at one time they flirted with the idea, perhaps even deluding themselves once again into thinking the Champions League was on the cards, they've slipped, and look increasingly unlikely to stay in their current 6th position as Liverpool will no doubt make a semi-comeback. That still represents a good season, but what might have been eh?
Drubbings by Fulham, Spurs and a cup defeat against Brighton all thrown in the mix recently too.
Even in recent form, we're surging up the table. Notably away from home, where we're currently fourth in the away form table, and in the same position overall. Meanwhile our neighbours sit in twelfth overall, and 5th at home (we're fourth at home).
5. We Can Surprise
This is on two fronts. First of all we've a penchant for the spectacular goal of late, and you wouldn't be surprised to see another 20+ yard goal rattle into the net. From anywhere in the final third we can get goals. We've scored bog standard headers from corners, dangerous breakaway goals, and the odd Sebastian Larsson freekick thrown in for good measure.
Secondly, there's the range of scorers for us, with 14 different scorers already this season compared to their 11. Also our goals have been spread about, where as the focus of the Newcastle attack is mainly on Demba Ba who has an impressive 16 goals as he angles for a lucrative move away.
People might worry about a second danger for the Mags, such as Yohann Cabaye, let's not forget here he only has two goals to his name this season. The same as our sparingly used Ji Dong-Won.
Also several of their 'top' scorers are missing - Ryan Taylor who has two goals, Leon Best who has four goals, whilst Hatem Ben Arfa who also has two has been a perennial substitute. For us there's Sessegnon, Larsson, Gardner, McClean, Richardson... all capable of goals, and all likely to be lining up this weekend.
6. Stephane Sessegnon's X-Factor
There's not much mystery in the Newcastle team. They work hard and make sure Ba & Cisse are on the ball as much as possible, hoping one of them will create something for each other or a teammate. The most intriguing player on show this weekend, and the games only 'wildcard' of sorts is Stephane Sessegnon who lines up in red and white.
Even recently Martin O'Neill talked about Sessegnon's mystifying skills, saying he can do anything, from anywhere whenever he's asked. It's little wonder he's rumoured to be attracting £20m bids from the likes of Arsenal, and is undoubtedly the most talented and skillful player who'll be on the pitch this coming weekend.
I'm glad he's in our side rather than against us!
7. Revenge Is Dangerous
Obviously given the recent past, we're out for revenge. We seem to have been the same in the last few games where we've not really been particularly as fired up as we should be, but now we have the man in charge who knows what the game's all about.
There's a feeling around Tyneside that the Mags are a little comfortable. They're in their ivory tower looking down on us for the time being, but it's built on shakey foundations. By all means my friends, feel you have the upper hand, it suits us down to the ground. We know we've got one hell of a team, and an even better manager.
We'll be gunning for revenge. It's on the cards, we owe them one, and in all likelihood given the area and the conditions, it will be served cold. The best possible way.
8. Derby Villians Nowhere To Be Seen
Looking at those who've managed to screw things up from either side in recent years, there's hardly any of them left to be seen. From the Mags side, Ryan Taylor who scored against us earlier in the season is out with injury, as is the perma-tanned namesake Steven. Joey Barton, the chief tormentor and pantomime villain in recent weeks has also been ousted
From that dark day on our side, the tubby and toothless Asamoah Gyan is currently counting his millions in the UAE, a hard-working but mistake prone Anton Ferdinand is also gone, and James McClean is a clear improvement over Ahmed Elmohamady.
Blasts from the past, such as Titus Bramble, shamefully sent-off at the now named Sports Direct Arena in the 5-1 drubbing will also be absent, and we're several hundred miles from seeing Kevin Nolan's chicken dancing.
9. O'Neill's Exemplary Derby Game Record
Martin O'Neill knows how to win a derby game, and big derby games at that. Whilst at Aston Villa, the Northern Irishman never lost a game against Birmingham City, and also his record at Celtic for Glasgow derbies is incredibly impressive.
During his time at Parkhead, O'Neill has a record of managing 27 Old Firm matches, and only losing eight of them, giving him a better win percentage in these games than the legendary Jock Stein. There were two particularly impressive moments too. The first of course being when he took them to seven consecutive Old Firm wins, but the second moment I feel is much more important.
The first derby for a manager is a time to make himself a hero, although as we've experienced first hand, many a time the manager can go on to lose, and blame the fact the game was more than he realised. So how did O'Neill get on in his first Old Firm game? Celtic battered Rangers 6-2.
Anyone take a repeat of that?
10. We're Unbeaten At The Famous 'Sports Direct Arena'
It's true is it not? We've an unbeaten record there to maintain, and I'm sure we will.
Ha'way The Lads.