Premier League preview: Newcastle United v Sunderland
The 144th Tyne-Wear derby between rivals Newcastle and Sunderland on Sunday has a lot more riding on it than just local bragging rights.
Newcastle (36 points) find themselves only five points clear of the relegation zone in 13th position while Sunderland are clinging to safety by the skin of their teeth.
The 17th-placed Stadium of Light outfit (31 points) only have their heads above water because their goal difference (-11) is superior to Wigan (-20) who currently occupy the first relegation spot.
While Sunderland's chances of heading to the Championship next season are greater than Newcastle's, the latter would want to be careful and make every post a winner - beginning with their age-old rivals this weekend.
And Newcastle will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of being knocked out of the Europa League at the quarter-final stage by Benfica on Thursday.
Alan Pardew's men have not been in the greatest of form recently either, winning just one of their last five matches in all competitions - a period which included three consecutive losses to strugglers Wigan (2-1), defending champions Manchester City (4-0) and Benfica (3-1).
However, Newcastle will draw confidence from the fact that they are undefeated in their last seven outings - including five wins - at St James' Park, the venue for Sunday's match.
Sunderland, meanwhile, have endured a horrid run which has seen them fail to secure a victory in any of their last nine league clashes.
Their last win came almost three months ago on January 19 against Wigan and new manager Paolo Di Canio will be desperate to arrest that worrying trend.
Adding to Sunderland's concern heading into this clash is the fact they have lost their last four matches on the road and also their failure to win at St James' Park since 2000.
Furthermore, Sunderland have not won any of the last six Tyne-Wear derbies, despite drawing four of them, with their last victory in the celebrated fixture coming in October 2008.
But despite Newcastle's strong home form and Sunderland's failings, Pardew says his team are the underdogs for this encounter.
"I think it's a disadvantage for us. To play Thursday night, and their management here to watch us go through a really tough game (against Benfica), is what I would want as an opposing manager," Pardew told The Chronicle.
"I think Sunderland will be slight favourites for that game."
The derby clashes are always hotly contested but this weekend's clash is sure to have more spice added with reports Newcastle fans intend to target Di Canio by taunting him.
But the Italian welcomed the prospect, insisting it would only fire him up more to get a result.
"I will hear much more the 2000 Sunderland fans, who will be much more loud than the 50,000 of Newcastle. I will absorb their energy," Di Canio said.
"When I was a footballer, especially away fans, they were an extra lift.
"Away from home, they would sing, 'Paolo Di Canio' and I wanted to score and celebrate. Now I am a manager I am only focused towards my players."
In a blow to Sunderland, though, striker Danny Graham is in doubt for the remainder of the season after damaging knee ligaments in training earlier this week.