CRAIG Gardner says he’s looking forward to derbies at the Stadium of Light finally being fought under the same conditions as they have been for many years at St James’s Park – with home fans to the fore.
The 25-year-old believes the home fans will be Sunderland’s ‘12th man’ this weekend, and he’s delighted that Black Cats supporters finally have the entire lower bowl of the ground to themselves, just as they do in Tyneside.
“I’m really looking forward to that side of it, and I think it’s only fair.
“I was on the bench and came on as a sub in the game at the Stadium of Light last season, and thought to myself: ‘this is a great derby’ – but then, when we were at their place, it seemed even more intense.
“That’s just because at our stadium the away fans were behind the goal, and that meant they could play a big part in the game, help their team and celebrate in everyone’s eyeline when they got a goal.
“Now, though, it’s going to be the same at both grounds.
“The home fans will have the vast majority of the stadium, and the away fans will be high up and out of the way.
“It’s going to be a whole different ball game because Newcastle are going to feel the same way that we do when we go to their place.
“I think it will be an incredibly intimidating atmosphere for the visiting side, and hopefully our players will be able to feed off the support we’re going to get.”
Gardner says it is vital Sunderland’s players stay above all the emotion surrounding the fixture, but admits that in the moments before kick-off it will be impossible to ignore the spectacle.
“As players, it’s our job to make sure we don’t get mixed up in all the stuff that goes on outside the training ground and the stadium,” he said.
“That’s for the fans, and that’s what makes the game so interesting.
“If we start getting involved in all the banter and the slagging, that will take our minds off the game.
“Our job is to get the three points, not to see who has got the best banter.
“You treat it like any other game until you actually come out of the tunnel, and then you think ‘Wow!’.
“But you have to try to stay calm and get the three points.
“It was just the same when I was at Villa when we played against Blues, and when I played for Blues against Villa – these are the games you dream about.
“It’s the same here – it’s what the fans dream about – I’m getting Tweets at the moment from fans saying they can’t sleep!
“It would be easy to get sucked into the atmosphere, and let the game pass you by, but we don’t want that.
“We want memories of the game ourselves, we want to put in a great performance.”