Sam Allardyce has warned Sunderland they will only stand a chance of collecting a seventh successive derby victory over Newcastle if they are “right mentally” ahead of a nerve-wracking Tyne-Wear derby.
The Black Cats make the short trip to St James’ Park on Sunday knowing the stakes have never been higher with both clubs languishing in the lower reaches of the Premier League table and knowing the odds on both staying up are receding by the week.
Allardyce, remarkably like his three predecessors, tasted victory over the Magpies in his second game at the helm back in October, but given the rewards for success and the price of failure this time around, he believes whichever side handles the pressure better will come out on top.
He said: “Mentally you have to be right, my players need to be right mentally. My focus has been on the mental side of this game because there’s so much at stake.
“They have to make sure they can manage the game well mentally to produce the abilities they have got, which will hopefully give them the desire and the ability and the aptitude to try to win this game.
“If we keep control mentally, we will be in a very good place because we have been playing pretty well. We have to focus on making sure when a chance comes our way that hopefully we will have the right player at the right time to convert that chance into a goal.”
Sunderland’s 3-0 win over their neighbours at the Stadium of Light came after Newcastle had dominated the first half, and they were set on their way by a series of controversial refereeing decisions which saw the visitors denied a penalty seconds before the hosts were awarded one with skipper Fabricio Coloccini being sent off, a decision which was later rescinded on appeal.
Allardyce said: “Each and every game of football is different, the bounce of the ball and the rub of the green, somebody being in the right place at the right time – the referee not making a mistake against you is another scenario you don’t want to happen in a big derby like this, especially with so much at stake.
“We can look after ourselves and then other factors can take the game away from you.”
Allardyce, who spent an ill-fated eight months in charge at St James’ at the start of owner Mike Ashley’s controversial reign, will return without bitterness, but determined to enjoy himself in the best possible way.
“There’s only one way you can enjoy a derby, and that’s by winning it,” said Allardyce. “There’s no other way. You can say the atmosphere is great, but it’s not great if you don’t win it.
“The only way you can really enjoy a derby match is by actually winning it, and of course you want to not just win it for yourself, you want to win it for the fans. You know how important it is to them and you want them to have the bragging rights for the rest of that week.”