Steve McClaren has been around the block, but some of the Newcastle manager’s comments ahead of the Tyne-Wear derby could be construed as somewhat naive given what’s gone before this season and in the past.
The former England man hasn’t promised Toon fans his side will end a seven-match winless streak against the club’s mortal enemies on Sunday, or anything quite as daft as that.
However, in giving the most hot-headed player in his squad licence to play “on the line”, McClaren could well be risking a numerical disadvantage occurring at some point during Sunday’s grudge match against Sunderland.
Since joining the Magpies from Anderlecht this summer, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s disciplinary problems became immediately obvious.
The striker was lucky not to receive marching orders on his debut against Southampton having behaved like a maniac, and has since gone on to be red carded once and cautioned four more times for club and country.
McClaren does add the important caveat that Mitrovic must “be smart with his aggression” as he appears to have been in his last two Newcastle appearances, where he’s also added the goals that will begin endearing him to the St James’ Park faithful.
Then again, ‘the line’ most players consider acceptable would probably fall someway short of where the overly-tactile Serbian considers it to be, judging by his aggressive antics early in his English career.
The cauldron of a derby atmosphere is probably a game in which the best advice for Mitrovic would be to operate well inside the line, with tackles certain to fly and tempers bound to flair.
The 21-year-old already has a derby black mark on his CV as well, having let the occasion get to him in Belgium when seeing red for Anderlecht against rivals Club Brugge.
Mitrovic is a 2/1 shot to score at the Stadium of Light, but whether he’s still on the pitch for 90 minutes may be a decisive factor in Newcastle’s 9/5-rated quest to finally end the Black Cat’s hoodoo over them.
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