Martin O'Neill has called the touchline row between himself and Alan Pardew during last season's Newcastle-Sunderland derby at St James' Park unedifying and insisted there will be no repeat on Sunday.
The confrontation was the peak of a frenetic afternoon in March. Two Sunderland players were sent off, eight players were booked, a member of the Newcastle back-room staff was dismissed at half-time for a clash in the tunnel with Sunderland's fitness coach and there was a huge melee in the first half involving players from both teams. The Football Association fined Newcastle £40,000 (they had already been charged with misconduct earlier in the season) and Sunderland £20,000 for failure to control their players.
The image that stuck, however, was that of O'Neill and Pardew in each other's faces and yesterday there was an attempt to dilute some of the hostility with the two clubs set to meet for the first time since then on Sunday at the Stadium of Light. "Obviously I hope there wouldn't be a repeat of that, if at all possible," said O'Neill, the Sunderland manager. "In the heat of the moment things can happen. Since then I have spoken to Alan Pardew on a number of occasions, but particularly to say to him well done on being Manager of the Year.
"It was not particularly edifying. These things can happen on the spur of the moment, things that you can be very embarrassed with and annoyed with yourself afterwards. I hope maybe we have both learned a lesson from the previous encounter. Our first aim is to be, at the very least, the best team around here. No 1 at the very least.
"I have been involved in a number of derbies, none bigger than Glasgow, but for intensity this is up there with the best of them. You just don't want to let people down. My assistant Steve Walford spoke about the intensity immediately after the game at St James' Park. He felt it was the same as games we had with Rangers at Celtic Park."
O'Neill had accused Newcastle's back-room staff of visiting the referee at half-time during a volatile game, which ended 1-1. He also turned down Pardew's offer of a glass of wine once the dust was settling. Yesterday was an attempt to draw a line under that affair but the Sunderland manager did admit he was not close to Pardew, as he is not particularly friendly with many in the game. Asked if he was a mate of the Newcastle manager, he said: "I can't say any of those things. I tend to just get on with my job and don't rely on a coterie of friends in the game. I never have."