It’s been a while since there has been so much at stake in the Tyne-Wear derby, which is enough to suggest this particular encounter between the old rivals should be even more intense than usual. Newcastle trail Sunderland one point at the moment, with the match also serving as an opportunity for new manager Rafael Benitez to present himself to the St James’ Park faithful.
Not even expensive signings and quality players can guarantee results when things are rotten from the inside and that is something controversial owner Mike Ashley is learning the hard way. Many were surprised to see Newcastle fans rebel against the club chiefs even when Magpies were doing well, but this season proves they have been spot on. Former England manager Steve McClaren couldn’t find the cure for poor form, and Newcastle chiefs decided to hand Rafael Benitez the task of trying to keep the proud club in the elite division. That will be no easy task judging by team’s recent performances, with the Magpies slipping below the dotted line on the back of four straight defeats. The team did show some improvement on Rafa Benitez’s debut against leaders Leicester, and that could help the players restore some of the lost confidence. But, even though both sides will be under pressure when they square off on Sunday afternoon, it is Newcastle who are in a bigger trouble at the moment and it will not be easy for them to find the right balance between aggression and composure needed to win a game like this.
There have been some good news for Benitez as Chancel Mbemba resumed full training, but captain Fabricio Coloccini looks set to miss out.
Papiss Cisse has overcome a groin injury and is back on contention, while Tim Krul, Massadio Haidara and Kevin Mbabu are definitely out.
This is the first season in a while when only four sides enter the final stretch with a realistic chance of going down, and Sunderland are obviously one of them. The Black Cats have been in and around the relegation zone for several years now, so this is definitely nothing new for them or their manager Sam Allardyce, who would probably be delighted to get one over his old foe Rafa Benitez. His side did show some promise in the last month or so, losing just one of last five fixtures, but their away showings leave a lot to be desired. The Black Cats could only win one of last nine matches on the road, but they have won six straight matches against bitter rivals Newcastle United and this definitely gives them the extra edge ahead of the clash at St James’ Park. The Black Cats haven’t conceded a single goal in five of those games, so no doubt they will be looking to continue the trend. Unlike their rivals, Sunderland do not have too many selection worries and they appear to be in a better position to win this match.
Top scorer Jermaine Defoe has shaken off a minor knock and he is expected to start, with Duncan Watmore the only unavailable footballer at the moment.
Jeremain Lens and Lee Cattermole have both returned to training, and they are pushing for starting places against Newcastle.
Key Factors to Consider
- Sunderland have beaten Newcastle six times in a row
- The Black Cats only conceded one goal in the process
- Newcastle last beat their rivals over 5 years ago
- The Magpies lost last four Premier League games
- Sunderland scored 8 goals in last 5 away fixtures
Newcastle United are still under a great deal of pressure and the fans could turn against the team if things do not go according to plan. Meanwhile, Sunderland are searching for seventh successive victory over their rivals and we are backing them to take at least one point from this match.
Verdict: Sunderland not to lose
Best Odds: 3/4