1:30pm local time on Sunday, March 20, 2016 at St. James’ Park
Newcastle – $2.15 at Sportsbet.com
Draw – $3.40 at www.Bet365.com
Sunderland – $3.60 at William Hill
Newcastle – 19th
Sunderland – 17th
Premier League form
Newcastle – W L L L L
Sunderland – D W L D D
Last five meetings
Sunderland 3-0 Newcastle (EPL 2015-16)
Sunderland 1-0 Newcastle (EPL 2014-15)
Newcastle 0-1 Sunderland (EPL 2014-15)
Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland (EPL 2013-14)
Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle (EPL 2013-14)
TWO proud clubs, one objective: survival.
The Tyne-Wear derby has become a feature of the relegation battle in recent English Premier League seasons, as both sides have spent much of the last seven years hovering around that dreaded drop zone.
But Sunderland could almost be forgiven for walking into this weekend’s edition thinking they have three points in the bag.
The Black Cats have won each of the last six clashes with their near neighbours, to whom they haven’t lost since 2011.
Those results have proven vital for a club which has retained its top-tier status since 2008 despite finishing with fewer than 40 points in five out of eight seasons.
It looked early in the campaign like this would be the end of the road for the pre-season wooden spoon favourites, who didn’t register a victory in 2015-16 until they downed their Geordie rivals in round 10.
But the appointment of Sam Allardyce midway through the season, combined with the putrid form of the present bottom three, has given Sunderland a sniff of survival once more.
Newcastle, meanwhile, are hoping their own managerial shift will produce an even greater turnaround.
Rafa Benitez manned the Magpies helm for the first time in last week’s 1-0 loss to Leicester City, having replaced the embattled Steve McClaren only a few days earlier.
The overall performance against the league leaders was noticeably brighter than in the coach-killing defeat to Bournemouth a week prior, with Newcastle creating (but spurning) several scoring opportunities before Shinji Okazaki’s overhead strike sealed the deal for the Foxes.
That doesn’t change the fact the Toon have now lost six of their last seven matches, which leaves them one spot off bottom and facing a second relegation in the space of six years.
Now Benitez faces a baptism of fire on his St. James’ Park debut, where he and Allardyce – bitter rivals since the latter’s days at Bolton – will resume hostilities for the first time since the Spaniard left Liverpool in 2010.
The former Valencia, Inter Milan, Napoli and Real Madrid coach may be more accustomed to trophy tilts than survival scraps, but he has one Ace up his sleeve: at 11 different clubs, he has never lost his first home league match as manager.
Newcastle team news
They may be struggling on the park, but the Geordies lead the league for injuries with 10 first-team players out of action.
The absence of Fabricio Coloccini (calf), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Massadio Haidara (knee) and Chancel Mbemba (foot) has left a huge hole in defence, while the midfield has missed the bustling presence of Cheick Tiote (muscle strain).
Kevin Mbabu has been out since January with hip and thigh problems, but the young Swiss defender is nearing a return and could provide a much-needed option in the troublesome left-back position.
Coloccini is also chance to make his comeback in the derby, while striker Papiss Cisse is touch and go as he looks to shake off a groin injury.
Possible Newcastle XI: Elliott, Dalmaat, Coloccini, Lascelles, Colback, Anita, Shelvey, Townsend, Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Perez.
Sunderland team news
The Wearsiders have comparatively few injury concerns, especially now that their stalwart set-piece specialist, Seb Larsson, is back from a three-month layoff.
A minor knock has sidelined another former Arsenal player in Emmanuel Eboue, who hasn’t featured since signing on as a free agent earlier this month.
The hard-working Dale Watmore is unavailable due to a foot injury, but Lee Cattermole (concussion) and Jeremain Lens (hernia) could pass fit in time for the trip to Tyneside.
Possible Sunderland XI: Mannone, Yedlin, Kaboul, Kone, van Aanholt, Rodwell, M’Vila, Kirchhoff, Borini, Khazri, Defoe.
– Sunderland to win ($3.60 at WilliamHill.com)
– Both teams to score ($1.90 at Bet365.com)
– Scores level at half-time ($2.10 at CrownBet.com)
After eight derbies unbeaten, it’s fair to say Sunderland have the wood over their arch-rivals.
They humiliated the Geordies to the tune of 3-0 at the Stadium of Light earlier this season, and they’ve won on their last three trips to St. James’ Park.
The question is: what has changed that could turn the tide in Newcastle’s favour?
The obvious answer is the appointment of Benitez, although it remains to be seen just how much tangible influence the former Champions League winner can exert in the space of little more than a week.
Perhaps the biggest boost for hosts is the absence of a certain Adam Johnson, who scored vital goals in four of Sunderland’s six consecutive derby wins before his well-documented sacking earlier this month.
But will that be enough to arrest the Toon’s slide into oblivion?
Newcastle first goalscorer bets
Ayoze Perez ($7 at Bet365)
Despite being used inconsistently by McClaren, 22-year-old Perez has been Newcastle’s brightest spark in the forward line. The Spaniard has six strikes to his name this season and should find a much more approving mentor in his compatriot Benitez.
Georginio Wijnaldum ($8.50 at William Hill)
He’s been the Magpies’ best player in EPL 2015-16, but even the Dutch international’s previously fine form has gone off over the last six weeks. What better way to break the drought than by scoring in a do-or-die clash against the old enemy?
Sunderland first goalscorer picks
Jermain Defoe ($7.40 at CrownBet)
Even at 33 years of age, Defoe remains a serious threat in the opposition penalty box. The former Tottenham, West Ham and Portsmouth striker has 11 goals for the season, seven of which have come in his last eight appearances away from home.
Patrick van Aanholt ($21 at William Hill)
For a defender, Sunderland’s young Dutch full-back makes an awfully big impression going forward. He has three goals and two assists to his name this season, and you can bet he will keep Andros Townsend and company on their toes with his rampaging runs down the flank.
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