Steven Taylor

Newcastle United centre-back Steven Taylor is writing an exclusive blog for nufc.co.uk. In his latest instalment, the Academy graduate talks about what Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby means to him, his fitness hopes for the game and England aspirations...

 

I picked up a slight strain on my calf against Reading last month and I've been working with our physios Derek Wright, Dave Henderson and Michael Harding over the last two weeks, who have helped me a lot.

I've played a lot of football so far this season and the good thing was my most recent injury was only a little niggle. The main thing for me is being 100 per cent fit for the Sunderland game.

Playing in the Tyne-Wear derby is what it's all about if you're a Newcastle player, and the build up will grow and grow over this week as the game draws near. There's always a massive build up, and that's the way it should be.

It's a game you don't want to lose and the main thing for us will be hoping that the players that are away on international duty come back fit. We'll keep ourselves ticking over until then.

It goes without saying that it's hugely exciting, and we're already talking about the Sunderland game in the dressing room and what a massive fixture it is for us.

I think I feel it more than most because I'm a Geordie and a lifelong Newcastle fan, so I'll be reminding the lads just how much it means to the people around here.

But if any players don't quite grasp the size of this game, the penny will drop when they get out onto the pitch for the warm-up and see the faces in the crowd and how much it means to them.

As a squad, we won't be doing anything different ahead of the derby - the gaffer will pick the team in the usual way - and it's all about keeping cool heads on the day and keeping 11 players on the pitch.

What I've learned over the years is that form goes out of the window in this fixture, and it really doesn't matter what either team have done in the matches before the big game.

We know Sunderland got beat by Manchester City, but by all accounts they played pretty well.

Similarly we lost to Manchester United by the same scoreline, and that could be a good thing because the lads came off the pitch angry at some of the decisions that had been made.

Things didn't go our way, but that could work in our favour as long as we channel those frustrations properly and go out there and prove a point. They will be feeling exactly the same, so it should be an interesting game.

Sunderland are playing some good football this season, and this is probably their best side since they had Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn up front. It's certainly the strongest squad they've had since then and we know we're in for a tough afternoon.

Their summer signing Steven Fletcher is in great form and everything he hits at the moment finds the back of the net. They've got some very good players and we'll have to be wary of that, but they'll be equally worried about us.

Playing in derby games requires an extra degree of concentration, and you have to be more careful with everything you do. So much can happen, but you can't afford to get caught up in the occasion and sucked in by the atmosphere.

We know the tackles will be flying, but from our point of view we'll look to get the ball down and play. We've got some tremendous ball players - especially in midfield - and they'll also be very aware of our front players.

We'll have to wait and see if Shola is involved, but we all know he loves to score against them and the script is written for him. I'm sure the gaffer will unleash Shola at some point, and if not we've got players all over the park that can score goals.

Away from the derby, I was at the game against Bordeaux last week and it felt like a proper European night under the floodlights. We started the game so well and put in a great performance.

We upped the tempo and caused them all sorts of problems and it really wound the clock back for me. We deserve to be playing in big European fixtures, and it felt good just being inside the stadium and being part of it.

It feels like there's a bit of momentum to our Europa League campaign now and after that result I think a lot more people will start to take it very seriously as a competition.

Another thing I've watched with interest recently is the England situation, with John Terry retiring from international competition and Rio Ferdinand seemingly out of the picture.

It's no secret that I'd love to represent my country at senior level and it's the greatest honour you can achieve as a professional footballer. But it's out of my hands and I can't say much more than that.

Other managers in the Premier League are obviously putting a word in for their own players, and all I can do is be fit and ready if the call comes my way despite not getting a go this time around.

Time will tell. I felt I started this season pretty well and all I need is that lucky break, so we'll wait and see. Mr Hodgson is the guy who picks the squad and all I can do is keep plugging at club level and see where that gets me.