Newcastle v Sunderland preview: Rafael Benitez set for first Tyne-Wear derby
By Raz Mirza
Last Updated: 20/03/16 5:39pm
Rafael Benitez's Newcastle get set for Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland with only one point separating the two sides at the foot of the table.
The northeast rivals collide at St James' Park as both teams attempt to drag themselves out of the relegation mire live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 1:30pm.
It will be Benitez's second game in charge of Newcastle following a 1-0 defeat at leaders Leicester on Monday, with just nine fixtures remaining to steer his side clear of relegation.
Sunderland are clear of the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference and the Black Cats will be aiming to continue their fine derby form having won the last six league meetings between the sides.
Central defender Chancel Mbemba could return to the Newcastle squad after being missing since February 3 with an ankle problem.
Mbemba is back in training and his potential return would be a boost for new boss Benitez, with skipper Fabricio Coloccini (calf) still struggling and Steven Taylor battling a knock.
Striker Papiss Cisse is also training again, but keeper Tim Krul (knee) and defenders Paul Dummett (hamstring), Massadio Haidara (knee) and Kevin Mbabu (thigh) are still out.
Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe is expected to be fit after recovering from a calf strain.
Defoe picked up the injury during the 1-1 Premier League draw at Southampton on March 5, but Sunderland have not played since and he was due to resume training with the rest of the squad on Friday.
Lee Cattermole is ready to resume after missing the trip to St Mary's through concussion while fellow midfielder Jeremain Lens is back in contention following hernia surgery, leaving manager Sam Allardyce without only Emmanuel Eboue (hamstring) and Duncan Watmore (ankle ligaments).
Defoe has scored seven goals in his last eight Premier League appearances away from home.
Sunderland have shipped 38 goals away from home this season, the most of any team in the Premier League.
Sunderland scored with all three shots on target in their win over Newcastle back in October at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats have won just three of their last 26 PL away matches (D8 L15).
It's a big game anyway but now, with one of these two sides definitely going down, it's a massive, massive game. If Benitez hadn't moved to St James' Park I would have made Sunderland a certainty. Now, it's a very difficult game to call. I watched Newcastle on Monday night and they looked a completely different side. Watching them against Bournemouth and then against Leicester, the difference was startling. The organisation was better but also, the players seemed to give a lot more. I really did fancy Sunderland for this but Newcastle have shown glimpses of promise already under Benitez. I can't split the two sides; it's a 1-1 draw for me.
PAUL PREDICTS: 1-1 (Sky Bet's odds: 5/1)
Newcastle are Sky Bet's 21/20 favourites for the Tyne-Wear derby despite the fact they have lost the last six meetings with Sunderland (13/5). Five of those victories for the Black Cats were to nil and Sam Allardyce's side are 5/1 to extend the trend. Five of those six victories also saw Sunderland lead at half-time and it's 9/2 for them to lead at half-time and go on and win the match.