Paolo Di Canio walks into the bearpit of his first Tyne-Wear derby knowing a defeat could well and truly spell disaster for Sunderland in their bid for survival in the Premier League.
The Black Cats did put in an improved showing in Di Canio’s debut match in charge at Chelsea last week and were indeed unlucky to eventually be defeated by two deflected strikes, but the bottom line is that Sunderland are now only out of the relegation zone on goal difference, with 18th-placed Wigan set to have two games in hand on them due to their FA Cup exploits this weekend.
Di Canio will be aware that a failure to succeed in matches against Newcastle was a black mark against Steve Bruce throughout his reign at the Stadium of Light and so will be sorely motivated to get his career at the club up and running at St James’ Park.
Sunderland are beset by absentees however. With Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher already ruled out for the season, Di Canio could find himself without a senior striker to choose from with Danny Graham still struggling with a knee injury while Connor Wickham is a doubt with an unspecified knock. Carlos Cuellar is also a doubt with an ankle injury while Craig Gardner will definitely miss out the next two matches through suspension.
Newcastle may still be suffering the effects of their midweek Europa League exit to Benfica though their Premier League status looks a little more secure after their dramatic victory at home to Fulham last Sunday.
Steven Taylor could return after missing the 1-1 draw with Benfica with a knee problem while Hatem Ben Arfa could feature as he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury. Yoan Goffran and Mathieu Debuchy return after being ineligible to play in Europe but Fabricio Coloccini (back), Davide Santon and Checik Tiote (both hamstring) miss out.
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