By Josh Powell | Sports writer
The North-East derby between Newcastle and Sunderland is traditionally full of crunching tackles and a flurry of cards. Last year’s encounter led to nine yellows, two reds, a touchline bust-up and finished all square with both teams getting fined for failing to control their players.
The passion of the derby is undeniable but there is one man who feels no pressure in the cauldron that is the Tyne-Wear derby. One man who rises above the dirty tackles and lets his goal-scoring prowess decide the fixture.
That man is the ‘Mackem Slayer’ Shola Ameobi.
Now, to say Shola is not a prolific striker is a bigger understatement than saying the Serbian fans aren’t racist. The 31-year-old has made 339 appearances in all competitions for Newcastle and scored 73 goals giving him a strike rate of just 22 per cent.
It gets worse when you strip away the Championship stats and study Ameobi on his top-flight form alone. He has made 249 Premier League appearances for Newcastle over 12 years and scored a measly 40 goals. A 16 per cent strike success rate is not something you want to write home about and a goal every six games is a shocking return for a Premiership striker.
But his ability to influence a North-East derby is unrivalled. His fellow strike-partners Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse may grab all the headlines but neither have enjoyed a derby goal yet.
Ameobi has made 12 appearances against Sunderland, started on seven occasions and spent exactly 700 minutes on the pitch. In that time he has scored seven goals and set up two more.
The Mackem Slayer has a 58% success rate against The Black Cats, averages a goal or assist every 78 minutes against them and Newcastle have lost on just one occasion when Ameobi has started the derby.
Some stunning statistics that explain exactly why Shola has become such a hero on Tyneside and why he’ll be the last man Martin O’Neill and co want to see entering the fray.
Despite these statistics it’s unlikely that Ameobi will start ahead of Ba and Cisse but there is every chance he can make an impact from the bench. He is 15/2 to open the scoring on Sunday and 13/5 to score at any time.
It is a tempting 40/1 wincast bet for Ameobi to score and Newcastle to win 1-0.