Sunderland and Newcastle rising from the ashes

Survival Sunday is a football fan’s sadistic pleasure. “Look at all those struggling to avoid relegation and oh look, is that a fan crying? What joy!”

That’s the viewpoint of course, if your team is not involved, otherwise there’s no pleasure at all. Embarrassment is just one fear –the prospect of going into work the next day in the knowledge that if your side is relegated, you’ll be hearing about it for a good while yet.

Going into Sunday 24th May in 2009, Newcastle and Sunderland fans feared the worst but also hoped for the worst; for their rivals that is. Whilst the Tyne-Wear duo lost on the final day, it was Newcastle who ultimately perished along with West Bromwich Albion and another side from the North East, Middlesbrough.

Despite the Mackems glee at the demise of their neighbours, it marked a 21st Century low for football in the North East. It’s an area with some of the most passionate fans the country has to offer, many saying they deserved better in the aftermath.

That’s what they are getting nearly three years on, but it hasn’t been without trial or tribulation. Both are on their second manager since 2009’s edition of Survival Sunday but Mike Ashley and Ellis Short appear to have found ones who acquiesce with their ideas.

Chris Hughton and Steve Bruce were unfortunate to be sacked but many haven’t dwelt on this, such has been the achievements of their successors. For instance, Alan Pardew has managed to build a very strong side in the space of three transfer windows.

Talented ball players such as Yohan Cabaye have signed. Pardew hasn’t ignored his side’s defensive responsibilities either by bringing in Cheik Tiote, an excellent ball-winning midfielder and Davide Santon, a fullback who’ll grow in stature the more he plays.

Then there’s Demba Ba the most astute acquisition of them all. Two elements have been free to the Senegalese forward – his price tag and his scoring. It will be intriguing to see what further impact Papiss Demba Cissé has after such a good first impression with a fantastic strike on debut. They deservedly sit 5th in the Premier League but just three places below are Sunderland.

This was improbable before the arrival of Martin O’Neill who helped to relegate Newcastle on the final day just under three years ago. With only one transfer window under his belt, he appears happy enough with this squad for now, adding loanees Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos on Transfer Deadline Day. Then again, why wouldn’t he be satisfied? Sunderland are the in-form Premier League team.

He has brought the best out of attacking midfielder Stéphane Sessegnon who has played the role of goal scorer and creator brilliantly. O’Neill also managed to unearth a gem originally bought by Steve Bruce in James McClean. Their defensive effort shouldn’t be ignored either as despite some recent injury problems, they have the division’s third best defence.

Hughton and Bruce deserve some credit for restarting the building process. The latter wasn’t short of funds at Sunderland. Consider though how wasteful with money some teams have been, such as Liverpool and he deserves praise for assembling the current squad. However, Hughton’s task of regrouping and leading Newcastle’s eventual procession back into the Premier League was arguably more impressive.

The form of the two North East rivals should help to make both sides stronger and intensify the already fierce rivalry between the clubs, if they continue to push each other as it appears currently.

To take the next step, Pardew and O’Neill must hold on to key assets in the summer. They must look to Spurs for inspiration and the way they didn’t sell Luka Modric in the summer. Granted, neither side has a player quite in the same class as the Croatian but if they sell their best players, they risk going backwards. Previously, the North London side have sold the players such as Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov, weakening themselves in the process and strengthening those above them. If you want to be competing in the higher echelons of the table, then an appropriate mentality needs to be taken.

This weekend, Newcastle will have a chance to have a closer look at Tottenham at White Hart Lane while Sunderland entertain Arsenal. It’s a mark of how far the sides have come that neither team will be overwhelming underdogs in either fixture.

Neither team will be participating in Survival Sunday in 2012 as much as both sets of fans would love to revel in the other’s demise. That might come on March 4th when Sunderland visit Newcastle. As the game draws ever closer, the more exciting a spectacle it becomes. Such is the performance of both; perhaps it should be labelled Salubrious Sunday.

Who do you think will come out on top this season between Newcastle and Sunderland? Tweet me @arhindtutt or comment below…

Article originally written at Gone With The Rhind

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