Sriker battle could hold the key

GOAL MACHINE ... Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher.
GOAL MACHINE ... Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher.

JACK Colback believes the finishing prowess of top scorers Demba Ba and Steven Fletcher could be the deciding factor in Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby.

Ba and Fletcher will go head-to-head this weekend as the respective talismen for Sunderland and Newcastle after already plundering 11 goals between them this season.

Only Hatem Ben Arfa has found the net in the Premier League for Newcastle other than Ba, while Fletcher has netted each of Sunderland’s five goals.

And with this weekend’s derby clash promising to be predictably tight, Colback knows the importance of making the most of Sunderland’s penalty box predator.

Colback told the Gazette: “It will be a good competition between the two strikers.

“Ba has started well, and obviously Fletcher’s been on fire too.

“It will boil down to which team can supply them the best.

“We haven’t been creative enough for Fletch, but we’ve seen that if we do create chances for him, then nine times out of 10 he’s going to take it.

“Coming into the game, it gives you a lot of confidence that we’ve got a striker like him who can score goals.

“But we’ve got a lot of other attacking threats too that we can make the most of.

“I’m sure it’ll be a tight game, but one we’re looking forward to.”

Sunderland will overtake the Magpies in the Premier League table if they secure only a second derby success in 12 years, despite having played a game less than Alan Pardew’s side.

Yet both sides have justifiable ambitions of a top 10 finish this season and Colback believes having the pair established in the Premier League only adds to the rivalry.

“With the teams both being established in the league now and both looking to finish in the top 10, it’s more competitive,” said the midfielder.

“We’re not just rivals that are 15 miles apart, we’re competing for the same sort of position in the league as well.

“We’ve had a few additions and they have, but it’s going to be pretty much the same teams who played last year.”

The derby remains Sunderland’s Achilles heel though, particularly on Wearside, after just two home wins against the Magpies in 45 years.

Last season, Sunderland succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light after dominating the opening 45 minutes and were then pegged back at the death by nemesis Shola Ameobi on Tyneside.

Colback added: “I think we outclassed them in both games last season, yet only came away with a point which was so disappointing.

“But at home, we know we’ll have the fans behind us and that can sometimes give you an extra lift.

“Certainly from what I can remember growing up, it’s seemed to be that Sunderland have played well in the derby and just not got the rub of the green.

“It’s something we’ll be looking to change on Sunday. We’d rather have a shocker performance-wise and win, than play well and get beat.

“It’s the type of game, certainly at home, that we’ll be looking to win.”