by Susan Jardine

Hey I got a prediction right for once!

Yes of course I am referring to the Tyne Wear bunfight – remember I said I thought it would be a draw? Well Shola Ameobi’s goal ensured I wouldn’t be left with egg on my face with my Wearside friends.

It had to be Shola didn’t it- and it is funny but watching it with a Sunderland friend as soon as Shola began warming up to come on the comment was “Oh no, not him, anyone but him”- this was of course a reference to the fact that Shola has a tendancy to hit the net against Sunderland.

But of course the match has a sting in the tail for Sunderland as they will face off against Liverpool without Lee Cattermole who serves the first of a three match ban after being given a straight red card after the final whistle last weekend at St James’. Also missing will be Stephan Sessagnon who also saw red. So it is hardly the best preparation to face Liverpool. As far as selection is concerned Jack Colbeck could partner Craig Gardner in central midfield with Fraizer Campbell and Bendtner up front.

The match between Sunderland v Liverpool could well see the return to Wearside of Jordan Henderson who returns to the north-east following his costly move in the summer. Henderson is sure to get a very warm reception from fans of the Black Cats. Of course two former Newcastle stars could well feature, I speak of course of Mssrs Bellamy and Carroll who may well especially relish facing Sunderland. As far as Liverpool as a team are concerned – well I am not convinced at all with them. Yes they won the Carling Cup but it was hardly a commanding performance. The myth of Liverpool from yesteryear still seems to be in existence in numerous quarters but looking at it dispassionately I would say there is a long way for them to go before you could say with any certainty that they will win any given match. They have a lot to prove to me and I doubt they will take the remaining Champions League place. That place for me remains a three way battle which does not include the Merseysiders. Others may well disagree with me though.

Although Arsenal did put in a massive effort against Milan at the Emirates I wonder how much it may have taken out of them mentally.

Newcastle are on their travels to the capital to face Arsenal and they will go with every chance of taking points off the Gunners. Arsenal at times have resembled Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Witness their performance in the North London derby where they beat Spurs 5-2, and their thumping at the hands of Milan last week where they lost 4-0. The problem with Arsenal as I see it is that they are missing someone like a Tony Adams or a Patrick Viera, two players who were so vital to Arsenal’s success years ago. Although Arsenal did put in a massive effort against Milan at the Emirates I wonder how much it may have taken out of them mentally. Newcastle by contrast will come into this match fresh after the match against Sunderland and if Coloccini can keep Van Persie quiet and Simpson and Santon control Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain then Newcastle may well take a huge step towards European football.

Middlesbrough have a lunch time date with Leeds United at the Riverside on Sunday. Two goals last week saw off Barnsley in the first leg of the Yorkshire double. Leeds though are just five points off a play off place after a 0-0 draw against Hull and if they are to stay in the hunt for that they badly need a victory against the Teesiders. Said like that it is easy isn’t it? The reality is far more difficult given they have gone three matches without a win. The saving grace for Leeds is that none of the teams with perhaps the exceptions of Southampton, Reading and West Ham are showing complete consistency at key point in the season and are dropping points. Throw into the equation that teams may lose points if Portsmouth fail to complete their fixtures for the season and the situation looks even more fluid.

Into League One and Hartlepool make the trip to the West Midlands to face Walsall. Dropping two points at home against Milton Keynes Dons may well have finished off their play off chances but three points against relegation threatened Walsall combined with results going their way could well spark some life back into them. Neale Cooper will most certainly not want a repeat of their last excursion to a ground whose club are haunted by the spectre of the drop- that one ended in a 5-0 drubbing by Wycombe. Hartlepool have shown they can compete with the best in the league and really have had their chances to nail down a play off place – but look to have let the opportunity slip from their grasp. Walsall of course managed to blow the promotion race wide open between the two Sheffield sides with victory over United in midweek. Question is can they sustain their efforts to scramble to safety?

So as we enter the final quarter of the season some dreams are about to come true for fans, some though will not. Never has there been a more important time in the season to be hitting form. But with that goes increased pressure of completing the job in hand. Someone once said it only takes a second to score a goal. That one second can also make or break a season.

Enjoy your footy – have a great weekend.