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Gray wants Sunderland passion

Former Sunderland left back Michael Gray has urged the club's players to play with their hearts when they face Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne Derby on Sunday.

• Macdonald: Derby down to nerves

Gray was a hero on Wearside, captaining the club during a twelve-year spell from 1992 to 2004.

After experiencing the derby many times for himself he has encouraged the Sunderland players to play with passion, while also emphasising the important role the club's fans have to play .

"Play with your heart and show some passion - that's what the derby is all about," Gray told ESPN. "This is the game the fans look for first when the fixture list comes out.

"With Sunderland being the home side there's that added pressure and they have to try and put the record straight.

"I hope the fans realise how much of a part they play in trying to get the players themselves over the finishing line and getting those three wanted points."

The Black Cats will be desperate for victory over their local rivals, with their last win against Newcastle coming in 2008.

And Gray admits that recent results against the Magpies at the Stadium of Light have not been good enough, however, he is confident his old manager Martin O'Neill - who he worked under at Celtic - will elicit a good performance from his players.

"The results of late at the Stadium of Light against Newcastle haven't been what everybody expected," he said. "It's always going to be a difficult game when you're playing your fiercest rivals.

"They've got to go out and perform and I don't think Martin O'Neill will let them do anything less than that. He is a winner himself and he'll certainly know the importance of derby games.

"He's been involved in some of the biggest derby games in the world when you look at the likes of Celtic and Rangers. He'll have drilled it into them the importance of coming up against your fiercest rivals and needing that result that everyone is looking for."

Sunderland go into Sunday's game having recorded just one win this season and Gray believes that the club could easily kick-start their season with a win against Newcastle.

"We're looking for that kick-start because I think this season we've drawn a lot of games," he said. "It's all about momentum in the Premier League.

"We did it ourselves one year (in the 1999-2000 season) when I was playing and we beat them in the rain 2-1. We never really looked back after that game and our form was great. I think that's the type of game they're looking for.

"It'll come down to the side that settles the best, and I think that'll happen in the first 15-20 minutes. It's always frantic in the start, and I just think this time the adrenalin and the momentum will be in the Sunderland end."

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