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Macdonald: Derby down to nerves

Former Newcastle striker Malcolm Macdonald believes that Sunday's Wear-Tyne derby will come down to who best can control their nerves of playing in such a big occasion.

• The digital Wear-Tyne derby
• Gray wants Sunderland passion

Macdonald, who famously scored a hat-trick on his Newcastle debut against Liverpool, never got to sample the atmosphere of the big derby.

However, he still understands the enormity of the event and believes the pressure is on the home side, while he is also backing Demba Ba to be the hero.

"Nerves will play a major part on Sunday," he told ESPN. "Playing at home, that's a pressure in itself. The Sunderland fans will be desperate for a win at home, and to beat Newcastle.

"Home debuts and derby matches, those are the kind of games that somebody can cement themselves into the folk lore of football supporters.

"It needs somebody to just go and take the chance. If I was to put my money on anybody it would be Demba Ba, although I think Steven Fletcher is a wonderful finisher. I think Demba Ba is much better supported by Newcastle than Steven Fletcher is by Sunderland. It's whether Newcastle can create the service for Demba Ba on Sunday.

"I never played in a derby match because I always played in the top division with Newcastle and Sunderland throughout that period were in the second division, which was a shame because they're full-blooded affairs and fabulous matches to play in."

As a former manager, Macdonald was also keen to stress the importance of setting the standard early on in a derby fixture.

"My first and most important message would be - win the first tackle of the game," he said. "Win that and you've got the upper hand and from there on you look to keep on increasing the pressure on the opposing side. The first time you get in and around the penalty area look to get a shot away.

"Its generally putting the opposition under pressure."

The former England international also believes that neither side is high on confidence and that a bad result on Sunday could very easily set one of them on a bad run of form.

"I think what a game like this can do most of all is set a team on a bad run," he said. "It's a reputation damager, it's a confidence shatterer, but it can also be a confidence booster," Macdonald said.

"At the moment I just get the feeling that Sunderland's confidence is a little bit on the fragile side, albeit I don't think Newcastle's is sky high.

"However, Newcastle have this tendency when playing at the Stadium of Light that they can be getting hammered in the game but just break away and nick something, and Sunderland will be very concerned about that.

"Recent history says that as well as Sunderland might be able to play on Sunday, one breakaway and all could be lost for them."

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