Dick Advocaat could not have asked for a more dramatic introduction to life at the Stadium of Light as his first home match in charge of Sunderland will be a fiercely-contested derby against Newcastle on Sunday.
Thousands of Sunderland fans walked out of the ground long before the end of their previous home game against Aston Villa, when a 4-0 defeat ended the reign of Gus Poyet and left the Black Cats one point outside the Premier League’s relegation zone.
And Advocaat, Sunderland’s new Dutch manager, knows a derby victory against their bitter rivals would be a major boost to their survival bid and to his hopes of convincing the club he is the right man to lead them for the foreseeable future.
Even after less than three weeks in the North East, the former Rangers and PSV Eindhoven coach, appointed on a short-term contract, is aware that this is a special occasion and he is relishing the prospect.
“This is what football is all about. In England almost every game is like a derby, they’re all real battles,” Advocaat said.
“I think as a footballer you like those kind of games with the atmosphere in the stadium and the fans, away and at home.
“We all know how special this game will be. We are all looking forward to it.”
Advocaat’s priority is to improve the strike rate of a team that has found goals elusive this season.
“We have to score goals and then you ask who can score them. They have only scored 23 goals this season. There must be a reason but it’s difficult to find out in such a short period,” he added.
Steven Fletcher is one of the strikers under pressure to hit the net after his hat-trick for Scotland last week, only one goal fewer than he has scored for Sunderland all season.
“It’s important for me that he scores for us if he plays because we are paying his wages,” said Advocaat, whose defender Wes Brown will be missing because of a hamstring injury.
– Unwanted history –
Meanwhile, John Carver, the interim head coach at Newcastle, is keen to avoid the unwanted place in Tyne-Wear derby history that awaits him if they lose for the fifth time in a row.
Tyneside-born Carver, who is expected to be replaced by a permanent successor to Alan Pardew in the close-season, admits he can’t contemplate being in charge of a side that would allow such a damning statistic to become reality.
The 50-year-old, who is without suspended duo Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse, is again forced to send out a patched-up side due to those bans, in addition to a string of injuries.
“There are one or two lads in our dressing room who need a good game, and to impose themselves on the derby, because they’ve not done in the past,” Carver said.
“If we get enough players imposing themselves in the right way, then we have a good chance of winning the match.
“In the last four games, Sunderland have out-worked us and that’s not a good situation for us. I’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I’ll be using a whip if necessary to ensure we don’t get out-worked. We need to do enough to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Newcastle have won just two of Carver’s 12 games in charge to hinder his hopes of earning the role full-time at the end of the season.
His side sit 12th in the league, 10 points above the bottom three, and he added: “People say we’ve nothing left to play for this season, but that couldn’t be more wrong.
“We’ve lost the last four derbies and drawn the previous one, so we’ve got an awful lot to prove.
“I’ll be demanding a lot from the players, but to be honest I shouldn’t have to motivate them for a game like this.” – Agence France-Presse