For the last two weeks, most of the footballing world has been preoccupied with the international break and the efforts of all countries involved to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. But while there are those of you out there who have been swept up in all that the last fortnight has had to offer; whether it be Wales' stirring 2-1 comeback victory over Scotland in Cardiff, or the utter farce and embarrassment that was the washout in Warsaw involving England and a seemingly impossible-to-close stadium roof, there are more than a certain few of us that have had our minds determinedly focussed and fixed on one thing and one thing only when it comes to this beautiful game of ours - the Wear-Tyne derby between Sunderland and Newcastle United.
These two games a season represent the most important and significant days for any fan of these two clubs up here in the North-East. To say that the rivalry is a heated one would be a major, major understatement. This Sunday's encounter at the Stadium of Light marks the 135th league appearance between the two sides. But it cannot be stressed enough that there is way more than simply 3 Barclays Premier League points on the line here. The pride of each and every fan who dons black and white or red and white is also at risk.
It is obviously difficult to understand the importance of this fixture if you aren't from the region. It would be hard for me to fathom the intensity of the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham, or have the understanding to wrap my head around how vital the Merseyside version is between Liverpool and Everton. It's because I wasn't born in either of those places. I was born in Newcastle, North-East England. And I think I speak for a lot of other Toon fans out there when I say that I know how big these games are considered to be up here.
The Wear-Tyne derby hardly boasts the beauty and brilliance of El Clasico in Spain, but it is guaranteed to deliver unbounded passion and emotion and dedication from both sets of players and supporters. There is almost the feel of an electrical buzz in the air in the week leading up to derby day. You can feel it in the city. It's all any football fan talks about. Nothing else. Just this game and this occasion.
In recent times, it is Newcastle who have had the upper-hand in the Wear-Tyne derby. Having taken 4 points out of a possible 6 from Sunderland last season, including that spectacular Ryan Taylor free-kick that gave Newcastle victory at the Stadium of Light, along with Shola Ameobi's last-gasp equaliser in the rematch at St. James' Park, the Black and White Army should feel content with their work against their bitter rivals during the last campaign. And who could forget the the 5-1 drubbing Sunderland suffered at the hands of Newcastle on Halloween 2010 on that mesmerising, Kevin Nolan-inspired Sunday afternoon? Although if you mention that particular result to any Sunderland fan, they would argue that they still finished above Newcastle in that same season. A fair point.
But far be it from me to simply only focus on one team here. Just because I'm a Newcastle fan, it doesn't mean I don't know the threat Sunderland pose, perhaps now more than ever. It is no secret that the Black Cats have been gradually gathering momentum since the appointment of Martin O'Neill as manager following the sacking of Steve Bruce. The man is a top manager and he is in the midst of putting together a formidable side. You only have to look at the impact Steven Fletcher has made since his Summer move from Wolves. He has already scored 5 goals during his short stay on Wearside and he will perhaps be Sunderland's biggest threat this Sunday. Not to mention the dangerous Stephane Sessegnon and the tricky and unpredictable youngster James McClean. The Newcastle back four will certainly have their hands full.
Whichever set of fans comes out on the winning end this Sunday will certainly savour and enjoy it because there really is no other feeling like winning on derby day. And whoever loses will just have to take solace in the fact that there's always round 2 at St. James' Park next year. And although a lot of us would be disappointment if it ended in a stalemate, there are a fair few fans who would take a draw prior to kick-off. Whatever happens, the North-East is sure to turn into a cauldron of energy, passion and emotion as two of the Premier League's most fiercely supported teams are set to collide once more.
The Black Cats v The Magpies. Here we go...