Hughton relishing derby tussle

The 51-year-old former Republic of Ireland international found

himself at the centre of speculation that his time at St James’

Park could be drawing to a close, with several bookmakers

suspending betting on his future just days ahead of Sunday’s

eagerly-anticipated clash with arch-rivals Sunderland. Newcastle

responded by insisting they intend to re-negotiate his contract,

which expires in the summer, by the end of this calendar year, and

it is a measure of the mutual respect between the Magpies’ boss and

his Black Cats counterpart that Steve Bruce reacted to the saga

with utter disdain. However, the gloves will be off when the pair

go head to head at St James’ Park with three points and local

bragging rights up for grabs, and Hughton has a very definite

scenario in mind. He said with a smile: “It would be the perfect

end to a very interesting week for me. “I have been involved in big

derby games throughout my career, but I am aware of what this means

up here, and it is wonderful that we are in a position to be able

to play this fixture because we weren’t able to play it last

season. “We have a home support that has been waiting for this one

and we just hope the match lives up to the billing.” The reason

Newcastle were not able to welcome their neighbours to St James’

last season was, of course, because they were themselves playing in

the Championship in the wake of relegation from the Barclays

Premier League. Sunderland, who themselves have spent more time

than they would have liked outside the top-flight in the Premier

League years, have built steadily since their latest return, and

will make the short trip to Tyneside more confident than they have

been for some time of repeating their feat of winning there in

successive seasons at the turn of the century. Few fans of either

club will ever forget the rain-soaked night back in 1999 when then

Magpies manager Ruud Gullit rolled the dice by leaving out talisman

Alan Shearer and lost not only the game, but his grip on the job,

and there is little danger of Hughton under-estimating the

magnitude of the fixture. He said: “My manager’s football head says

at the end of the day, it is about three points. “But I am also

very conscious of where I am manager at this particular moment and

what it means to the supporters, so if course it is more than that.

“It’s the game in the season that your supporters want to win the

most. It gives those supporters the bragging rights for whatever

period that is. “I am very, very conscious of that and I am sure

you will have two very, very committed teams trying to get a result

for their club, and of course a result for the supporters.” Hughton

rested nine of his first-choice XI for Wednesday night’s Carling

Cup fourth-round clash with Arsenal, when defeat extended their

winless home run to four games. He said: “Our home form hasn’t been

as good as we would have liked. It’s an area of our game we have to

address – we have been very, very good away from home – and there

would certainly be no better time to address it than Sunday.” That,

however, may be easier said than done with Bruce’s men arriving on

enemy territory on the back of a seven-game unbeaten league run.

Hughton said: “I have got the utmost respect for Steve. As a

player, he worked his way up to a magnificent career at Manchester

United, and he has done that in his management career as well.

“What he does is gets teams who play for him, he gets teams who

have a work ethic, and if I look at the team he has at the moment,

it is one that he has built and he has guided and you can see

Steve’s characteristics in that side.”