The two North East Premier League clubs have been so bad this season the Guardian has equated this derby to “two pygmies fighting over which one is tallest”, and it’s unlikely to get easier for either club. Newcastle finally managed to turn their ghastly form around with a thumping win over Norwich last time out, and everyone from the backroom staff to the fans will be hoping this is where the Magpies turn a corner. Sunderland, one of only two teams below Newcastle in the form table, are rolling the dice on Big Sam in the hope he’ll keep them up. The Black Cats have not so much flirted with relegation as drunkenly snogged it in a bar—will this be the season they finally go down?
Signed by Dick Advocaat to be an experienced head in defence, Kaboul has failed to impress so far at the Stadium of Light. He has the pedigree of several years with Tottenham but looks to be on the wane. Despite being relatively cheap, Sunderland look to have overpaid. The only match where the Frenchman played anything like his best was against his former employers, presumably to try and prove a point. Since then he’s been poor (much like the rest of his teammates) but if there’s any game that’s likely to inspire a captain’s performance the Black Cats so badly need in this relegation battle, it’s a Wear-Tyne six pointer…and if it doesn’t, then Sunderland are surely doomed.
The Dutchman made the cut for the last Picks In-Play, and he does it again after a stunning performance against Norwich last time out. He scored four times against the Canaries, who probably thought they could nick a win when they arrived at St. James’ Park. Wijnaldum has given his manager much more than a stay of execution—he’s blessed McClaren with a lifeline. He showed with his play that he might just be a player Newcastle can build around. But the shadow of Mike Ashley hangs over every success this team might have. If Wijnaldum turns out great, he’ll presumably be sold to the highest bidder come summer, and then the Magpies will be back to square one.
Mitrovic looks to be calming down enough to actually score a goal or two, and alongside Ayoze Perez, bagged one in the demolition of Norwich. Sunderland’s defence looks shaky to say the least, so Newcastle’s new strike pairing ought to fill their boots on Sunday. It’s an early (early!) kick off, so it may take both teams a little time to work into the match—but once they do FLIP Sports expects the Magpies to score goals.
The honourable mention for this match goes to Sunderland’s new manager. He’s won plaudits for several years in connection with his motivating skills and the ability to keep teams up. If he can keep Sunderland in the top-flight it will arguably be his greatest managerial achievement.