• FT





  • FT



    Man Utd



St James' Park, England

Attendance: 52355

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0 - 3



  • Stephane Sessegnon 27'
  • Adam Johnson 74'
  • David Vaughan 82'

Tense derby in store

Kristan Heneage
Alan Pardew celebrates after Sunderland scored at the Stadium of Light in October

The Tyne-Wear derby has always held a special place in the life of the region and, when the Premier League fixtures are released, it is the first date many fans mark on their calendars.

There may only be a few points between the two clubs, but the moods are somewhat contrasting. Galvanised by a quintet of Gallic signings in January, Newcastle have enjoyed a confidence boost after toiling through a winter of discontent.

Sunderland were not so blessed by their January business. While Alfred N'Diaye has shown promise, the consistent absence of defender Kader Mangane is a concern. Some fans are also wondering why a target man like Danny Graham was purchased when Connor Wickham was already at the club.

The Black Cats are currently in 17th place, and Sunday's clash could have repercussions much more severe than just mockery from across the divide.

When Newcastle fell meekly into the second tier of English football a few years ago, Sunderland celebrated. Newcastle fans haven't forgotten, and with their rivals perched precariously above the relegation zone - above Wigan only on goal difference - the Magpies know they can increase the tension.

For Sunderland, there is a chance to boost their survival bid at the home of their biggest rivals. But they attempt to do so knowing that the form book is not in their favour, with just three wins in 16 attempts at St James' Park.

They also travel to Tyneside burdened by injuries. Steven Fletcher, out for the rest of the season, has been a rare source of threat in a side that has struggled for goals: how he would have enjoyed attempting to build on the legacy of former derby heroes such as Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.

Lee Cattermole is also out. The prime candidate for a sending-off lasted 90 minutes in this fixture last year - only to be dismissed for dissent as he left the pitch. He, and the suspended Craig Gardner, will be big losses in midfield.

While both clubs would be reluctant to admit it, they would miss each other's presence. A rivals' relegation may bring tear-inducing hilarity at the time, but it also removes one of the highlights of the season - a stomach-churning fixture in which wins bring euphoria and defeats devastation. Not since Newcastle went down has the game mattered this much.

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio knows the history. An insatiable reader in his spare time, he explained this week that he was now well-versed in the back story of Sunderland and Newcastle's grievances, dating back to the 1640s.

At Swindon, his side seemed tactically simple but, by his own admission, he was unwilling to lumber the players with complex instructions. We may well see a more complicated approach as the Italian looks to outwit the more experienced Alan Pardew.

Di Canio may also have been keen to study the history of Hatem Ben Arfa's impact on this match. An exciting talent, Ben Arfa was on form in this fixture last season. His half-time introduction did everything but secure the home side a goal - that was instead left to Shola Ameobi.

Striker Ameobi is known as 'the Mackem Slayer' on Tyneside, having scored more than half a dozen goals against Sunderland. He may have been born in Nigeria but, with his broad Geordie accent, his heart is rooted in Newcastle.

Players such as Ameobi and Steven Taylor will be tasked with explaining the relevance of the game to those who have recently arrived from France. Of all Newcastle's XI, Taylor draws the most ire from Sunderland fans. He once claimed he would rather collect stamps than play for Sunderland, while a dive against them in 2009 cost them a win they had deserved.

The toughest test for both managers will be to keep 11 players on the field - there have been four red cards in the last five meetings. Not for the first time, Howard Webb has been appointed to oversee the game - quite possibly an appropriate decision, given that he is a former police sergeant.

Often, these games are more about not losing than trying to win, and as a consequence this could be either barnstorming or boring. But one thing is guaranteed. It will be tense.

Newcastle player to watch: Hatem Ben Arfa - Alan Pardew was reluctant to divulge too much about injury news, but did confirm that Ben Arfa will find himself on the bench. His impact against Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday showed why his skill is so vital to the Magpies' cause. Against tiring Sunderland defenders, he could boost Newcastle as the game goes on.

Sunderland player to watch: Stephane Sessegnon -

A mercurial talent, Sessegnon is Sunderland's greatest threat. Fans adore his ability to conjure up the spectacular from nothing, but he is still struggling to settle in England and there is every chance this may be his last season at the Stadium of Light. Due a special moment in a Tyne-Wear fixture, his decision-making will need to be good in a game that normally offers few clear chances.

Key Battle: Yohan Cabaye v Alfred N'Diaye: Cabaye endeared himself to fans with a goal in the reverse fixture in October, and it is vital for Pardew that he keeps his cool. If he is able to find space and dictate play, Sunderland could be in trouble. It is a big ask for N'Diaye to try and shackle Cabaye.

Trivia: The Tyne-Wear derby has often been decisive for both players and managers - most famously Ruud Gullit. Gullit dropped Alan Shearer and was sacked, and a spectacular effort from Kevin Phillips in torrential rain secured the Black Cats' first win at St James' for 10 years.

Stats: Given that Sunderland have failed to win in their last nine league games, they will not be encouraged by a record of just three victories in 21 Premier League meetings against their local rivals. Nine wins for the Magpies and nine draws make up the remaining 18 fixtures. Newcastle have drawn just one of their last 22 league games, and that suggests a tenth stalemate is unlikely.

Odds: Newcastle are the bookies' favourite at 1.95 with Bet 365, while the draw is 3.50 and Sunderland are at 4.50.

Prediction: With their opponents high on injuries and low on confidence, this is Newcastle's chance to secure a win. If their players are able to remain composed, they should be able to edge it.

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