Newcastle v Sunderland: Mike Ashley faces new storm if Newcastle lose again

Sunderland go into today’s Tyne-Wear derby revitalised under Gus Poyet, who has quickly seized control, and looking to pile more misery on their local rivals after Yohan Cabaye’s exit

Row K, seat 15, the epicentre of St James’ Park. Mike Ashley’s seat, in the Newcastle United directors’ box. Not cheap. Current estimate, around £250m. He plans to sit in it today, for the 150th Tyne-Wear derby. The eyes of Tyneside bore into this seat. Say what you like about Ashley – and just short of seven years into his reign he continues to stir the very soul of the club’s supporters – but he has guts.

This week he sold Newcastle’s best player, Yohan Cabaye, for £19m to Paris Saint-Germain. Cabaye and a delegation of senior players had expressed unease in the summer of 2012, after Newcastle finished fifth in the Premier League, about the lack of investment in the transfer market. Twelve months later, the club finished fifth bottom. There have been no domestic cup runs since Ashley bought the club for £134m in 2007.

Newcastle have looked a good team at times this season, but today there will be no Cabaye, no Loïc Rémy (suspended), no Fabricio Coloccini and no Yoan Gouffran (both injured). If he follows his plan to attend, Ashley will potentially sit at the eye of a storm.

From the back row of Level Seven at St James’ Park, high up in the footballing gods, Tyneside opens before your eyes: from the iconic Tyne Bridge to the modern curves of the Sage arts centre in Gateshead, past the last few cranes at the Swan Hunter shipyard, all the way to where the Tyne meets the North Sea.You cannot see Wearside from up there. It adds to the tribalism that so affects this game. From every vantage point, the stadium casts an imposing shadow. Win here and Sunderland conquer Newcastle.

On 14 April last year, they danced at the back of this huge stand three times. It was Sunderland’s biggest win against Newcastle for more than 30 years. Paolo Di Canio slid on his knees. The win kept Sunderland up but the manner of defeat caused chaos on Tyneside. There were 111 arrests, mostly of people who had not even been to the game.

“I’m conscious of what happened last season when we lost,” says Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager. “There were all sorts of disturbances in the town. As a manager I felt responsible for that. I don’t want that to happen again. I want us to party on Saturday night. The best thing we can do is try and win the match.”

At the Stadium of Light in October, Sunderland again beat Newcastle. Ashley and Joe Kinnear, his director of football, missed the defeat and the tentative beginnings of the Sunderland revival, under Gus Poyet.

From there, Poyet has slowly taken control to the point that on Monday he berated Mark Hughes of Stoke City for not contacting him over alleged interest in two of his players, Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole. “For a transfer he must call the manager,” Poyet said. “He did not call me.” That was huge.

For all the public rancour that surrounded Di Canio, he could not undermine Roberto De Fanti, the director of football unearthed in a restaurant in London. That was the new plan of Ellis Short, the Sunderland owner, a structure to encourage continuity and keep transfers away from the manager. Di Canio bit his tongue in the summer when Tom Huddlestone was offered less money by De Fanti than he was already on at Tottenham. The midfielder joined Hull. Di Canio ranted and raged. Nothing changed. Di Canio was sacked.

Earlier this month De Fanti, who signed 14 players for around £30m in the summer in another ill-advised Sunderland spending spree, was also sacked. He has yet to be replaced. Poyet returned to Brighton to sign the midfielder Liam Bridcutt yesterday. He was instrumental in the acquisition of the left-back Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina and the central defender Santiago Vergini.

To win a boardroom battle after the carnage of Di Canio is testament to Poyet’s political skill. He is a manager Kinnear and Ashley are both believed to rate. Losing just once in the last 14 games has added to his rising star.

Gus Poyet now dictates transfer policy at Sunderland after Roberto De Fanti was sacked Gus Poyet now dictates transfer policy at Sunderland after Roberto De Fanti was sacked (Getty Images)
The Sunderland dressing room today will be small, hot and claustrophobic. There is little air, the ceiling is low. That is not accidental. It used to be the base for Newcastle, but they moved to a bigger, more luxurious changing area in 2007 and last summer the home dressing room was given the full treatment. Black-and-white pictures of club legends Bobby Moncur and Jackie Milburn adorn the walls. Each player has his own personal code to a safe in his own locker. Yohan Cabaye’s is now vacant, a small man with great talent and a huge personality. How the French players react to his departure may well determine Pardew’s own future. He must unlock Hatem Ben Arfa, a player he has not trusted this season.

“If you were to say his time is upon him you wouldn’t be far wrong,” adds Pardew. “Sometimes I think people look at him and assume he’s super-confident the way he plays, that he has cast-iron confidence about what he can do, but I don’t think he actually is like that. I think he does worry about the game and his responsibilities. That has to be taken into account. I don’t want to heap too much pressure on him.”

He has no choice. In his bid to avoid becoming the first Newcastle manager since 1924 to lose three successive Tyne-Wear derbies, Pardew is likely to turn to Ben Arfa and Sammy Ameobi, two players he has given 11 Premier League starts this season.

There was a dejected acceptance by Pardew on Thursday that he must now build his third team as Newcastle manager. He has been in charge for just over three years. Continuity is impossible with a club philosophy that a respected Newcastle fans’ website compared on Tuesday to Crewe Alexandra. He adds: “I can’t argue where we are in the table: eighth. That’s our average position over all the years of the Premier League. How can we better it? That’s what I want to try and do.”

At the end of the tunnel to the St James’ Park turf is a short flight of uphill steps. They will seem bigger today for the home side, who dare not stumble.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam