It seems that the past six derbies have involved more than just playing for the pride of the North East. Instead, Sunderland have been searching for their first win or fighting to get away from the bottom.
The difference now is that so are Newcastle United. Rafa Benitez is searching for his first win as Newcastle boss and both clubs are desperate for a win to climb away from the bottom. In a derby fixture that has been hailed the biggest of a generation, the result could not be more important.
Sunderland may have the upper-hand. The Black Cats have won the past six derbies, scoring 13 goals and conceding just one.
The first? A 3-0 win at St. James’ Park under Paolo Di Canio. Then followed 2-1 at the Stadium of Light, 3-0 and 1-0 at St. James’ Park all under Gus Poyet, 1-0 at the Stadium of Light under Dick Advocaat and 3-0 at the Stadium of Light in Sam Allardyce's first win as Sunderland manager.
The biggest one though was arguably the 3-0 under Di Canio, which sparked the winning run.
Time for change
It was such a surprise to Sunderland fans. For months they’d been watching pretty drab football under Martin O’Neill, and attending or watching the game felt like a chore to fans.
O’Neill was their dream man and his honeymoon period left Sunderland fans thinking that he was capable of big things at the Stadium of Light, but months down the line things had turned sour.
O’Neill seemed to lack guidance in the transfer window and apparent off-the-field issues were putting the boyhood Sunderland fan under strain.
The match results became predictable, a draw or a defeat seemed inevitable, scoring was always a struggle and the Wearsiders weren’t that great defensively.
His departure, still, was hard to take. Sunderland fans had gone from a ‘Party with Marty’ to ‘Departin with Martin’.
Who could be the man to save Sunderland’s season? Well, he came in the unlikely shape of Paolo Di Canio. An appointment which caused controversy as Sunderland began to make headlines internationally, for appointing someone with such strong beliefs.
The famous knee-slide that started it all
It really was Sunderland against the world. Di Canio’s first game was away to Chelsea, a 1-0 defeat. Sunderland played well and they looked like a new team under Di Canio. But, of course, the Black Cats couldn’t get too carried away.
The past few derby results hadn’t been great for Sunderland at this point. Would Di Canio understand the importance of it? Would he get it?
The Italian certainly understood it. Sunderland were on the front foot for most of the game and Stephane Sessegnon sent the away end into delirium on the 25 minute mark as he struck from just inside the penalty area to send the ball into the bottom left corner. 1-0 Sunderland.
Ten minutes later it looked as though the Black Cats' sour season may continue as Newcastle fans and players alike called for Danny Rose to be sent off after a challenge on Mathieu Debuchy, however, thankfully for the loanee, he escaped with a yellow card.
It wasn't until the 73rd minute mark when Sunderland struck again, giving themselves a comfortable two goal cushion.
Adam Johnson scored a beautiful goal from just inside the area, but perhaps the greatest thing about the goal was Di Canio’s celebration. The Italian just couldn’t believe his eyes as he slid down the touch line with both of his fists pumping the air.
He then stood on the touchline with his dirty knees as he watched his side play their way into Wearside folklore.
Less than ten minutes later, the unlikely hero of David Vaughan popped up with a classic postage stamp goal to extend Sunderland’s lead. The midfielder, from the edge of the penalty area, curled one into the top right corner. Game over.
The final whistle went and Di Canio saluted to the Sunderland supporters with a fist pump as he became an instant hero on Wearside.
And that was the game that started Sunderland’s run of six victories over fierce rivals Newcastle. A run of six games that will be talked about for generations.
Next up; number seven?