Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has played down the significance of a blunder which saw a bar at the home of arch-rivals Sunderland decorated in his club’s colours ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup derby.
The Wearside club have launched an investigation into how the Black Cats Bar at the Stadium of Light, which will host corporate hospitality for travelling fans, was decked out in black and white and Magpies slogans, sparking fury from home supporters.
But as “disgusted and hurt” Sunderland chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus vowed to address the issue, Newcastle head coach Howe waved away suggestions the 6,000 visiting supporters had been handed a head-start in the run-up to the eagerly-anticipated third-round fixture.
He said: “No, I don’t feel that. Look, these things can happen, it’s up to Sunderland what they do with their stadium. It’s nothing to do with us.”
The game, the first between the sides for almost eight years, represents Howe’s first taste of the Tyne-Wear rivalry, and he is expecting his players to handle the white-hot atmosphere.
Asked if he thought the signage row could further fuel the passion of the home fans, he said: “Regardless of what you’re expecting, you still have to play the match in front of you.
“We’ve just got to blank out any distractions and play the game and use our support – which I’m sure will be incredible – to propel us to a really good performance.”
The controversy came to light on Thursday, when images of the bar were circulated on social media.
Sunderland later apologised and confirmed it would be returned to its original state.
Louis-Dreyfus wrote on Instagram: “I would like to apologise to everyone associated with Sunderland AFC for the events that have unfolded today.
“Like our supporters, I was disgusted and hurt by the pictures circulating online of the inappropriate signs that have been ripped down.
“I take full responsibility for every decision that is taken by the employees of our club and you have my word that I will personally make sure that we make the necessary changes required to improve because it is clear that there are many areas where we need to be better.”