Steven Caldwell

By Dan Sheridan - Newcastle United Managing Editor

Former Newcastle and Sunderland defender Steven Caldwell knows a thing or two about Tyne-Wear derbies having played in four during his career - two in the black and white of United and two in the red and white of the Wearsiders.

Now at Birmingham City in the Championship under former Magpies boss Chris Hughton, the Scot admits he's looking forward to watching the big game as something of a neutral.

Having made 37 appearances for United during Sir Bobby Robson's reign at United, the international centre-back is no stranger to the passion and expectation surrounding this Sunday's clash.

But with over 80 games under his belt for the Black Cats, the 31-year-old admits he's just happy to see the North-East's big two battling it out at the right end of the Barclays Premier League Table.

"It should be an excellent match," says Caldwell, "because both sides are doing well in the league. Martin O'Neill has turned things around while Newcastle have done amazingly well to stay in the top six.

"I've been very impressed with them and Alan Pardew has done a tremendous job. They've surprised a lot of people but they have some top players and Pardew seems to be getting the best out of them, which is the sign of a good manager.

"I'd love to see Newcastle and Sunderland grab a place in Europe because both clubs are very close to my heart. I always want both teams to do well as I think it helps the region and it means so much to supporters on Tyneside and on Wearside."

Caldwell's first taste of derby action came at St. James' Park in 2000, when a Niall Quinn header sealed all three points for the visitors in a game that also saw Alan Shearer miss a late penalty.

But just two seasons later, the former Burnley and Wigan man was on the winning side as a Nolberto Solano penalty was enough to win the game for Champions League-chasing Newcastle at the Stadium of Light.

With such experience in his locker, Caldwell knows all too well the pressure that is placed on both sets of players in the build-up to the game. But as the Stirling-born stopper admits, it's all about having the right attitude on the day itself.

"I've been lucky enough to play for both sides in both stadiums in derby games," he says, " and they are memories that I cherish. They are emotional occasions, but the trick is to stay cool and just try to play your football.

"You have to make sure the occasion doesn't get to you, but the atmosphere will be tremendous and I'm sure both sets of players will be looking forward to it.

"It's very difficult being a player in the North-East during the build up to the game because it's hard to escape the hype and easy to become consumed by it.

"But it's important to do the things that you're good at as a team and the side that does that are usually the ones that come away from the match with all three points."

With 13 games remaining in the Championship, a recent good run of form has propelled Caldwell's Birmingham into the play-off places in what is a typically competitive league.

And as their campaign reaches a crucial period as the race for promotion hots up, the defender admits he'd love the chance to run out against his two former clubs in the North-East in the top division next term.

"Certainly that's our aim," admits Caldwell. "The most important thing for us is Premier League football. We're on the right track but the Championship is a very, very difficult league this season and there are some top teams to contend with.

"But hopefully we can keep improving over the next few months and break into the top two. If not, we can hopefully go into the play-offs in good form and try and go up via a trip to Wembley."