THE DATE: FEBRUARY 1, 2014. A broad smile was plastered over the face of Jack Colback as he wandered over for a post-match interview on the St James’s Park touchline.
“You should play these every week,” I joked.
“Aye,” he chuckled. “These and Man City!”
Minutes earlier, Colback had produced one of the stand-out performances of his Sunderland career to help the Black Cats to a second successive 3-0 win on Tyneside.
Ten months on, it remains difficult to accept that Colback will be part of the blueprint to inflict a first derby defeat on Sunderland since Steve Bruce was at the helm, back in August 2011.
Colback’s goal celebration last February, and even that picture of him mocking the Magpies afterwards as he sat alongside Jozy Altidore on the team bus, seemed to leave no doubt over where his loyalties lingered.
Despite hailing from Tyneside, it had never been an issue for Colback as he emerged alongside Jordan Henderson from Sunderland’s academy.
While he had gone to watch Newcastle at St James’s as a kid, he wasn’t dyed-in-the-wool.
It’s why the flurry of interviews since he joined Newcastle claiming that he was being reunited with his boyhood heroes didn’t ring true.
But he will be paraded as the “Geordie hero” tomorrow; his face plastered over the front of the matchday programme.
While that may prompt a touch of nausea for those in red and white, Sunderland have to take a share of the blame for Colback becoming the 67th player to cross no man’s land and play for both.
The club weren’t pro-active in renegotiating a contract which saw Colback being paid peanuts by Premier League standards.
When they did get round to it, Roberto De Fanti offered a derisory pay rise. The Italian didn’t rate him.
Bitter at that and eager to remain in the North East with his young family, the 25-year-old took the decision to accept the big bucks offered by Newcastle.
For that decision, he will know the pelters will rain down from the Sunderland fans up in the Gods at St James’s tomorrow.
Will it faze him? Don’t bet on it.
This is the kind of high pressure, combative encounter in which Colback thrives.
It’s those middle-of-the-road games against the lesser lights which he has always struggled to take by the scruff of the neck.
Colback will be scurrying around the legs of Sunderland’s central midfielders, looking to nick possession away and provide a platform for Moussa Sissoko to burst forward.
Likewise, Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson will be doing the same to Colback. It’s why the draw looks the likeliest scenario.
But inevitably when Colback goes to bed for a night of tossing and turning tonight, he will be dreaming of grabbing the winner.
That really would be the bitterest pill for Sunderland to swallow.
– By Chris Young