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Pardew predicts golden period for North-East game
ALAN Pardew is hoping tomorrow's Wear-Tyne derby will herald the start of a golden period for North-East football.
Sunderland entertain Newcastle United in a top-flight derby for the third season in a row, with both sides occupying a place in the top 13 positions of the Premier League.
Newcastle are in Europe, Sunderland are looking forward to a home tie with Middlesbrough for a place in the quarter-finals of the League Cup, and neither side is expected to be struggling towards the foot of the table come the end of the season.
You have to go back to the mid-1950s to find the last occasion when Newcastle and Sunderland were both regularly competing in the top half of the top-flight, but Pardew can foresee such a scenario unfolding in the next few years.
The Newcastle boss, who recently signed a new eight-year contract, is confident his own side are well placed to build on last season's fifth-placed finish, and has been quietly impressed with Martin O'Neill's rebuilding work on the banks of the Wear.
“I think this could be the start of something special,” said Pardew, who is expected to welcome Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor back into his starting line-up at the Stadium of Light. “I think we are both stronger than we have been for some time.
“We have a good management team, so do they, and we both have good academies. I think we're now at a point where both sides can look at each other and say, 'We can compete with them'. We're confident we can compete with them, and I'm pretty sure they think the same about us.
“Neither of us want to still, we're both looking to keep moving forward, and I think this game is a springboard to the top eight, if you win it.
“A draw would keep us both where we are in mid-table, which is not where either of us want to be, but if you take a step back and look at the two teams, you'd have to say that the North-East is as strong as it's been for a number of years. They are a good side, and I think we are a good side too. That's a good thing.”
While the magnitude of tomorrow's opening derby of the season is not lost on Pardew, he does not want to find himself in a position where the two matches against Sunderland are the only defining moments in an entire campaign.
The derby will always dominate the rest of the calendar and, last season, Steve Bruce became the latest North-East manager to discover that a succession of derby defeats can prove terminal.
Despite being born in south-west London, Pardew insists he is attuned to the local passions that govern the footballing scene in the region.
But just as the Manchester derby has become a key date in the national calendar as well as a parochial skirmish, so he is hoping the derby matches between Newcastle and Sunderland assume a wider importance.
“You want this derby to be more than just a parochial game,” he said. “You don't want to be in a position at the end of the season where the only trophy on your shelf is having beaten the other local team. I don't think they want that, and we certainly don't.
“We want to have some substance to our season. We got European football last year and we want to try to achieve that again or win a major trophy. That's what we've got to aim for.
“But of course, locally, these games will always be defining for the fans. I might think our best wins last season were against Manchester United, Wolves or Stoke away, but to our fans, the most important win was definitely Sunderland. There's no mistaking that and I mustn't ignore it. I have to understand that feeling.”
With the atmosphere on Wearside tomorrow sure to be feverish, Pardew is confident his players will not need reminding of the importance of the occasion.
He will be warning against getting too caught up in the derby-day tumult, but admits his side will have to match Sunderland's passion and aggression if they are to gain the upper hand.
“Sunderland play a certain way, with really high energy,” he said. “They don't want you to play or pass the ball. In a derby game, that can get accelerated even more.
“If we don't match that, we're not going to be able to play our game. We need to match their effort and commitment. If we do that, we'll have a good chance of winning the game.”
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