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Sporting a red-and-white loom wristband made for him by his grandson Ollie, Sam Allardyce looks forward to his first home match, and first derby, as Sunderland manager and says: “It’s not just another game, far from it, for me.” All week Wearside and Tyneside have tried to compare the managers of Sunderland and Newcastle United, and Allardyce does have shared history with Steve Mc Claren.With both Sunderland and Newcastle in the bottom three of the Premier League, it is worth remembering that Mc Claren is the only man alive who knows what it is like to lead a North-east team to a major trophy.And when Mc Claren’s Middlesbrough won the 2004 League Cup, they beat Allardyce’s Bolton in the final. Both men have also been keen to downplay being the final pair in the running for the England job two years later, when Mc Claren got it and Allardyce didn’t.“I would never joke with Sam about that,” laughs Mc Claren.But there has been a contrast listening to Mc Claren on Thursday and Allardyce on Friday, and it is of tone.If a derby is like a high jump, Allardyce is charging towards it, Mc Claren is sizing it up.At one stage, Mc Claren says “it’s just another game”, in the sense that victory would bring the same three points as last Sunday’s win over Norwich City. “It’s one nobody wants to be on the wrong side of,” he says. It can have a more damning effect on you, losing this game than any other, can’t it? As a former Newcastle manager, Allardyce knew the impact of defeat to Sunderland had on Ruud Gullit, Joe Kinnear and Alan Pardew.
After last Saturday’s 1-0 loss at West Bromwich, Allardyce is in the same situation. While the fixture means an understandable focus on the two clubs’ positions in the table, it brings much-needed anticipation. Whereas Mc Claren sees the Wearside atmosphere as something his players will need to control – “We can’t let that affect us or get carried away by that” – Allardyce sees the potential inspiration, though he mentions the downside too.
“It’s only measurable by experience,” Allardyce says of a derby-day atmosphere.
“I don’t think anyone can scientifically measure it.
The fact that we can’t afford to have empty seats shows that players play better with atmosphere.
“It’s unique – sometimes the more hostile it is away from home, the better a player plays.