REFEREE Robert Madley will take charge of his first Wear-Tyne derby when Sunderland host North East rivals Newcastle United on Sunday.
The 30-year-old from West Yorkshire is a surprise choice to handle the notoriously intense clash between the fierce rivals at the Stadium of Light at midday (live on Sky Sports 1).
He will be ably assisted by the veteran Dave Bryan and Fifa linesman John Brooks while the fourth official will be the experienced Mike Dean – who handled this particular derby for the third time in last season’s corresponding fixture.
Madley will oversee his 10th game of the season in all competitions at the weekend but he’s also been on electronic board duties seven times so far.
He has brandished 35 yellow cards and awarded two penalties while his only red card was shown to Watford’s Valon Behrami in their 1-0 win over Swansea last month.
The appointment reflects the vast improvement of the Wakefield-based whistler, who has now been selected for Premier League duty for seven weeks running after being in the middle for Stoke’s 1-0 win at Swansea on Monday night.
It has been described as ‘a risky appointment’ by former Premier League referee Mark Halsey, who believes Madley is ‘nowhere near experienced enough’.
Madley has often been condemned for inconsistent decision making and was the subject of criticism from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho for failing to award his side a spotkick in their 3-1 defeat by Southampton before the October international break.
In recent years, the Tyne-Wear derby has been awarded to several new officials with Lee Probert and – last season – Anthony Taylor tasting the fixture for the first time.
And now it’s the turn of Madley – who is only in his third full season as a Select Group referee but experienced another high-profile derby just a month ago as Aston Villa beat Birmingham in the ‘Second City’ showdown in the Capital One Cup in which he performed well.
The Ossett-born official largely impressed during four seasons in the Football League before exploding onto the Premier League stage by sending off three players on his debut in West Brom’s 3-0 win at Southampton in April 2013.
But the big decisions at St Mary’s in his trial game were deemed by many to be correct and he subsequently earned promotion to a full-time referee at the start of the 2013-14 season.
Although he is often involved in controversial moments, Madley – who took charge of both legs of the FA Youth Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City in 2014-15 – is not afraid to make brave decisions and is high on the merit table after some good displays of late.
The West Riding FA Referee Development Officer last encountered Newcastle in their 2-1 home defeat by Southampton in January and Sunderland in their 2-2 draw at Aston Villa in August – in which he awarded Villa a spotkick.
It will be a first Tyne-Wear derby in the dugout for both managers – Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren, with Allardyce set for his first home game since replacing Dick Advocaat as boss.
Advocaat won his first Stadium of Light match against the Toon Army when Jermain Defoe’s volley earned a 1-0 win in April – and the Black Cats will be desperate for a sixth straight derby win which would be their first in the Premier League this term.
Newcastle were the only other winless team until they got off the mark themselves with last Sunday’s 6-2 thrashing of Norwich at St James’s Park.