Michael Beale got up, pushed his chair under the desk and announced his pleasure at not giving the assembled reporters any easy headlines.
Welcome to the North-east, t-minus three days to the first derby between Sunderland and Newcastle for eight years. Beale, just three weeks into his new role at the Stadium of Light, has the chance to make himself a hero on Wearside -but as a veteran of Old Firm games with Rangers, he knows that sometimes the scrutiny can sabotage you.
Sunderland are at home, have a healthy nine-game unbeaten run in this fixture and boast a crop of young, fearless and in-form players who are relishing the chance to measure themselves against players more used to nights in the Champions League than neighbours from the Championship snapping at their heels.
But really there is no way Newcastle can be anything other than firm favourites. Their team cost 10x Sunderland’s squad value and the reason they have not played one another in so long is solely down to the Black Cats’ decline, bouncing back from League One only two years ago.
They are rebuilding with a new model, placing an emphasis on developing young players rather than spending big. Tony Mowbray paid the price for questioning that, which is why Beale is now in the hotseat.
A contentious pick for the role after his mixed time at Rangers, he is still trying to establish himself in the job – although decent festive form has returned Sunderland to the Championship’s top six.
Compare and contrast with Eddie Howe, under the first pressure of his time at Newcastle. Is it a free hit for Beale?
“We’re at home but I’m sure they’ll be the favourites because we’re in a different league,” he said on Wednesday.
“Eddie is everything that is good about British coaching. Sometimes you can overachieve a bit early and only he’ll know how much pressure he’s under but I’m sure we’ll both get it in the neck if we lose. It’s not a free hit for us.
“I’m not looking at it like a free hit. I see it as a great opportunity for my young players to show what they can do.
“If you look at our three midfielders we’re a young team but we’ve got big ambitions and motivations to play in the Premier League. What an opportunity for them.”
The game is one of the highlights of FA Cup third-round weekend, with 6,000 Newcastle fans set to make the short journey to the Stadium of Light.
There is added intrigue because of vocal Wearside criticism of Newcastle’s Saudi owners – a topic Beale refused to be drawn on, instead preferring to focus “on the players” – and a first meeting since the 2021 takeover.
On the field the ferocity and fire of the fixture has been missed and Beale believes it will be the focus of the nation’s attention on Saturday.
“It’s the first derby in eight years – far too long – and it’s the beauty of the FA Cup that’s brought them together and everyone in the nation will be watching,” he said.
“It’s a fixture that captivates everyone in the North-east. It’s a huge fixture, we love our derbies in English football but in this part of the country in particular.
“We need to be at our very best, those eight years have been different for the two teams. It’s intriguing, our young, ambitious team going up against a Champions League team. It’s fascinating for the neutral as well.”