Sunday 20th March has the potential to make or break Newcastle United’s season. A crunch match against local rivals and fellow strugglers Sunderland, is poised to be one of the biggest and most significant derbies for some time. Both sides are faced with the very real prospect of relegation, and neither want to suffer that fate, however it now looks likely that at least one, or both sides will face the dreaded drop. That is where the 12th man effect comes in to play. A buoyant St James’ Park home crowd could be the deciding factor on derby day.
#BringBackTheScarves has been trending on Twitter on Tyneside this week, as fans have come together to encourage fellow supporters to do precisely what the hashtag says. Bringing back the scarves and flags at St James’ Park would display excellent unity that the fans and players have been lacking in recent times, and could potentially be the catalyst that ideally would translate onto the pitch and result in better performances and three valuable points.
United’s away form has been woeful so far this term, only bottom club Aston Villa have a worse record away from home, and Newcastle have scored just seven away goals in 15 games, a league low. It’s clear that United prefer their home comforts, and in order to give the team an edge, it is the responsibility of the fans, the 12th man, to get behind the team and fully back them in their endeavours on the field.
With Rafa Benitez newly installed at the helm of the club, it has filled the region with new optimism that survival may well be a real possibility. Benitez’s first home game is a daunting one this Sunday, but the Spaniard is no stranger to high octane, high pressure and high intensity fixtures, which should give United the mental advantage over their fiercest rivals. The players will similarly be out to get revenge, after suffering six defeats in a row at the hands of Sunderland, but will need to keep cool heads and stick to Rafa’s gameplan.
Benitez is likely to set up in a practical fashion, strong in defence and quick on the counter attack, as opposed to Sunderland’s often route one-esque, Allardyce-style football. It isn’t difficult to see which side are better on paper but it is down to what happens on the pitch, that will determine whether United buck the trend of the recent derby fixtures, or whether Sunderland will continue their rampant form in this match-up.
This derby proves to be the most significant in a very long time. With United currently sitting in 19th, one point behind Sunderland who are on 25 points, the tie is finely poised and the victor of this match stands a very good chance of Premier League survival, making it a tantalising derby day for the neutrals, but a nerve-racking one for the fans and staff of the respective clubs.
The 12th man effect could prove vital on derby day, propelling the team forward, with the noise of 50,000 Toon Army fans motivating the players to play for the badge on their shirt and move one step closer to Premier League survival, at the expense of their greatest enemy. A sea of black and white scarves and flags would create an intimidating atmosphere for any opposition side, we need only to look at Borussia Dortmund’s ‘Yellow Wall’ to draw comparisons of what could be achieved in the stands at St James’ Park.
It is without doubt that both sides will be playing at the top of their game, and it remains to be seen whether the Rafa revolution will have a marked impact on Newcastle’s form and Premier League fate. The 12th man could play an important role for both sides. It is shaping up to be a classic encounter which holds massive permutations for both clubs as there is so much at stake.