Once again, Premier League survival is at stake for bitter rivals Newcastle United and Sunderland as they meet in a massive Tyne-Wear derby that could go a long way towards deciding which of them will be relegated this season.
The hosts will be looking to give the Black Cats a taste of their own medicine as they strive to end an ignominious six-match losing streak in this fixture home and away. The last four Sunderland managers including current incumbent Sam Allardyce have all won their second games in charge, which have been against Newcastle on each occasion. This time the boot is on the other foot as Rafael Benitez attempts to kick-start a march to safety with a victory for the Tyneside club.
There was plenty for the Spaniard to be encouraged by as his new side matched leaders Leicester City for long periods on Monday evening but were undone by an excellent piece of skill at one end while a lack of end product proved their downfall at the other. The greater degree of intensity on show from the team will have been relieved by the Magpies supporters, who always demand maximum effort, while Aleksandar Mitrovic showed good hold-up play on his return to the starting XI.
Sunderland come into this one in the relatively reasonable position of having a game in hand on the sides below them and having not slipped back into the bottom three following results last weekend. But they should really be much better placed to survive after throwing points away in recent weeks, most notably against Southampton when a fine display was set to be rewarded with a victory until a last-gasp defensive lapse saw them concede an equaliser despite having a one-man advantage.
Allardyce has not been able to hide his disappointment after such failures, but otherwise he will be pleased with the way his side are playing; at least showing signs on a fairly consistent basis than they can stay up. The arrival of Benitez to St. James’ Park has certainly added even more fuel to what was already an intense battle, but given their recent record against Newcastle they should have a slight psychological advantage. Ultimately it is only the result that counts, with a draw not really of help to either team.
Chancel Mbemba should be fit enough to return for Newcastle, but captain Fabricio Coloccini is likely to remain sidelined.
The away side a boosted by the return of midfielders Lee Cattermole and Jeremain Lens, while Jermain Defoe has shaken off a minor calf strain.
Last Meeting: Sunderland found wins hard to come by for most of last season, but their enterprising performance on Tyneside in December 2014 was rewarded by a stoppage time winner from Adam Johnson. The winger finished off a swift counter-attack just when it seemed they would be left to rue missed chances from strikers Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham, while the closest Newcastle came was when Ayoze Perez was denied by Costel Pantilimon.