This weekend brings us possibly the most exciting prospect of a Tyne-Wear derby in recent history as Paddy Power make Newcastle odds against favourites as both sides concerned have had good seasons so far.
In somewhat opposite fashions, Newcastle began the campaign surprising everyone, holding one of the longest unbeaten runs of any clubs this season but appear to have gone off the boil a little as of late.
Sunderland, on the other hand, began the term dismally but since Steve Bruce was replaced at the helm by Martin O’Neill, the Black Cats have skyrocketed in fortitude and Premier League position.
Newcastle United still sit some ten points above their bitter North East rivals but won’t take that for granted with much of the gap down to displays in the first half of the season.
The Magpies will undoubtedly have bigger targets for their end of season achievements with European football still a realistic goal, but Sunderland will be just as keen to complete their turnaround and tie down a place in the top half of the table.
O’Neill’s side have won three and lost three of their last six fixtures, ranking fifth in both home and away form in their last twelve league outings.
When the two sides met earlier this campaign, Newcastle managed a 1-0 victory but will face a more confident and dangerous task this time around.
Alan Pardew’s Newcastle stuttered at home last week, surrendering a draw to Wolves in Terry Connor’s first game in charge of the West Midlands outfit.
The Black and White side of the derby haven’t recorded a win since early February and will be keen to get Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cissé back to scoring form since the forwards returned from African Cup of Nations duty.
While Newcastle have no fresh injury concerns to worry about, Sunderland will put Nicklas Bendtner and Phil Bardsley through late fitness tests before the encounter as they look to set the record straight in what will be Martin O’Neill’s first Tyne-Wear derby as a manager.