Call for calm on Tyne-Wear's troubled waters
O'Neill and Pardew play down old feuds and show mutual respect in attempt to take sting out of England's 'nastiest' derby
"I think I'll get on the bus," said Martin O'Neill.
He was sat in St James' Park. His Sunderland side had moments earlier conceded a last-minute equaliser. Two of his players had been sent off. There had been an accusation that the Newcastle coaching staff had approached the referee's room at half-time.
The Newcastle bench and the Sunderland bench had come together, as had 21 of the on-field players, when James McClean had gone in late on Danny Simpson. Alan Pardew had shouted in O'Neill's face when Newcastle had won a penalty.
"The Newcastle manager has said there is a glass of wine for you if you'd like one," came the provocative question from the floor of the post-match press conference.
O'Neill got on his bus.
There has been an airbrushing of the vitriol that flowed around St James' Park (and through the veins of both team's staff) that day back in March. O'Neill offered an olive branch at the League Managers Association annual meal. He congratulated Pardew on what is looking an even greater feat right now in leading Newcastle to last season's fifth-placed finish.
There was talk this week of the row being a misunderstanding, although no one could quite remember previous managers of these two old clubs locking antlers in such dramatic fashion.
A truce is advisable. The Tyne-Wear derby is becoming the nastiest on these shores outside Glasgow. The animosity cannot be cranked up any more, especially as policing today's game has been made more difficult by moving those fans from Tyneside to a different end of the ground.
Nationally, there has been understandable outrage about the felling of Chris Kirkland at Hillsborough on Friday night by a pitch-invading Leeds fan. But just under 20 months ago, Steve Harper, the Newcastle goalkeeper, was pushed over in his goalmouth by a Sunderland supporter celebrating a late Asamoah Gyan equaliser. Three years earlier Shay Given had fans gesticulating in his face after Kieran Richardson had scored.
This is a seriously volatile fixture, especially at the Stadium of Light, and neither manager can be seen to provide the slightest fan to those flames.
Their row, however, has added a further element to today's game. Neither manager will have even considered reaching across the technical area at twenty past two this afternoon and offering their hand as a loser. These are two men who like to win, but perhaps that is where the similarity ends.
O'Neill deliberates over every word he utters. It is how you know the cut is deliberate. "No. no, honestly, I'd forgotten about (the row with Pardew) within four months," he said before today's game.
While O'Neill is more considered, and deliberate, Pardew relishes the limelight. He enjoys Tyneside's brightness. O'Neill is more comfortable enjoying a quiet meal with his back-room staff. The pitch- side animation is the only time his unquestionable passion burns near the surface.
Then, and perhaps only then, is his guard dropped. Pardew is similarly uncontrollable on the sidelines, he revels on that particular stage, although he was reluctant to be drawn on the importance of the psychological battle that will be fought on the side of the pitch at the Stadium of Light today.
"I'm not sure what happens on the touchline comes into it," he said, "What will be important on the day is to try to get the selection right, in terms of our half-time address and substitutions. We have to hope we get them right. So from that side of it I don't think it will be an issue. That's where my focus will be and I'm sure it will be the same for Martin. We are both emotional guys.
"We scored that day in injury time and it's hard to keep your emotions completely in check.It's understandable at the time, but it's all been cleared up. I have massive respect for Martin for all that he's done as a manager, and for the team he has built because he has a very good Sunderland side, the best I've faced as Newcastle manager, for sure."
O'Neill faced the issue more squarely. He was upset at the pressure put on the linesman at St James' Park by the Newcastle bench. Interestingly the lay-out of dugouts at Sunderland is the same. The pressure will once more be applied by the Newcastle dugout.
"Let's say the opposition manager goes up and has a word or two with the linesman who happens to be on his side," he said. "And, of course, you start to get irritated because you start to think he is going to try and influence the linesman into a couple of decisions, particularly if they have heard he has got one wrong, and the same the other side too.
"It just seemed to carry on a bit more than was the norm. I hope what is happening in front of us is eye-catching enough for us not to worry about what is going on elsewhere.
"It is pretty important. I think the line may have become blurred last season. It is important to be in control and not to be affected by other things, but it is difficult because you do get carried away."
Control. Both men crave it, no matter their difference. Who finds it today will be key.
Sunderland v Newcastle United is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
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