Perhaps the most important Tyne-Wear derby of all-time takes place at St James’ this Sunday; a relegation battle six-pointer between the sides in 18th and 19th as we enter the final stretch of the season.
Following an encouraging performance against league leaders Leicester days after taking over, Rafa Benítez will be hoping to take part in the recent trend of newly appointed managers getting a Tyne-Wear derby win in their second game. We’ve not been victorious in a derby since August 2011, and Sunderland have won the last six.
“I am sure that we can win this game and that will give the players belief going forward into the next games. Every game is different and a derby is a derby, so anything can happen. The players know this but they also know how important it is that we win.
“The main thing now is that they stick together. They are committed and working very hard to try and understand our ideas of what we want to do. They are trying their best and that is the main reason why I’m so positive.”
– Rafa Benítez
Training has been stepped up as Rafa looks to instil some sense of tactical nous into the side, and the strikers have been singled out for a new training regimen with an increased focus on finishing, what a novel idea!
Our 28 goals scored in 29 games is abysmal – only the already adrift Aston Villa have scored fewer (22) – and is largely to blame for our paltry 24 points, putting us in 19th. Sunderland are a point and place above us with the same games played. Norwich are the gatekeepers of safety on 28 points, but we have two games in hand and they’re up next. These back-to-back six-pointers will make or break us.
Chancel Mbemba and Papiss Cissé are back in training and contention, with the former expected to start. Rafa has said that Steven Taylor “will be okay”. Siem de Jong and Andros Townsend returned from injuries to be subs on Monday. Fabricio Coloccini and Paul Dummett are out.
Card collector Colback, who faces his former side, is a booking away from a two game suspension.
“We know [Mitrović] has the potential. Now we have to give him the confidence to make the difference. He can score goals but he’s not at the moment. I have watched him training and know he will score. We must give him confidence, movement and tips. Maybe he can improve his game.”
– Rafa Benítez
It’s hard to really make any predictions here, so I’m going with the same as last time, especially as it worked bar the finishing, but with Mbemba returning to beef up the defence. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Siem de Jong or Andros Townsend thrown in.
I’m going to do the whole optimism thing and believe that after a week in the job Rafa can coax a performance out of this team, with Mitrović bagging a brace and de Jong coming on as a sub to seal the win. 3-1.
We ran a poll on our build-up thread, so here’s how ToonForum predict things will go:
Where to Watch / Listen
Tickets are, of course, sold out. The match is broadcast live on Sky Sports 1, with coverage starting at 12:30, although there’s also the Manchester derby going on later in the day, so that’ll steal some focus. Local radio commentary, as always, is on BBC Newcastle, with talkSPORT covering the game nationally.
How do you think we’ll get on in this game? Have your say in our discussion thread.
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