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Preview: Newcastle United vs. Sunderland

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland at St James' Park.

Rafael Benitez has certainly not been allowed to ease into his new job as Newcastle United manager as his first test was against Premier League leaders Leicester City, and now he faces the club's bitter rivals Sunderland.

The Spaniard will go head to head with his old foe Sam Allardyce at St James' Park on Sunday, with both clubs in need of points to fight off relegation.

Newcastle United

Rafael Benitez gives instructions during the Premier League game between Leicester City and Newcastle United on March 14, 2016© Getty Images

Benitez began his reign at Newcastle with a defeat on Monday as his new team were outdone by a single goal from Shinji Okazaki against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

The result was the Magpies' 10th defeat in 13 games, but there were positive signs from the players who had just three days to work with Benitez after he was appointed as successor to Steve McClaren.

The defensive organisation was better and Benitez made a point of saying that he wanted more commitment from his players, which was shown in the first few minutes of the match when Moussa Sissoko charged 50 yards to close down goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

This weekend comes one of the biggest tests for Benitez as he has been given the task of ending Sunderland's impressive Tyne-Wear winning run, which currently stands at six games.

There is expected to be a fierce atmosphere as both clubs are trying to retain their Premier League status - Newcastle are currently 19th in the standings, two points off safety, while Sunderland are only out of the bottom three because of a better goal difference than Norwich City.

The tension in the crowd on matchday may also be within the dugout as Benitez and Allardyce have publicly clashed in the past while coaching different clubs.

Allardyce openly admitted a few years ago that he did not like Benitez because he sometimes got too "personal", and the Sunderland boss did not hide his enjoyment when his old Bolton side used to frustrate Liverpool when the Spaniard was in charge at Anfield.

Newcastle may have shown positive signs on Monday night, but they have a big challenge ahead of them as they have lost their last four league games on the trot and conceded 10 goals in the process.

They face difficult opposition, including Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, before the end of the season, but they need to overcome their local rivals first.

The fans can take some comfort from the fact that Benitez has never lost an opening home league match with any of the last six clubs that he coached. In fact, he won five and drew one.

Recent form: LWLLLL


Sam Allardyce bellows during the Premier League game between Southampton and Sunderland on March 5, 2016© Getty Images

As mentioned, Allardyce is not Benitez's biggest fan and he will be relishing the prospect of taking on the Spaniard in a derby match that has favoured Sunderland the last few years.

The Black Cats have won this tie six times and have been fully entitled to the bragging rights, but it will not be just about that on Sunday as they try to pull away from the relegation zone.

At the moment, they are just out of the bottom three on goal difference alone, but they need to pick up some victories if they are to ensure their safety by May.

The Black Cats have only recorded one victory in their last eight league fixtures and that was a 2-1 win over Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13.

Allardyce managed to end a rot of five straight defeats in December by guiding the team to back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Swansea City, but since then, there has been a run of inconsistency.

The North-East outfit have lost three, won one and drawn four, but they have shown some fight as they were able to bounce back against Bournemouth, Liverpool and Crystal Palace to claim a point from those games.

In their final eight games of the season, Sunderland will take on Leicester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, so they will be targeting the likes of Newcastle and Norwich City as games where they can pick up points.

Recent form: LDWLDD

Team News

Fabricio Coloccini celebrates scoring Newcastle's opener against Aston Villa on December 19, 2015© AFP

Newcastle could receive a welcome boost with the returns of Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Cisse following recent spells on the treatment table with injuries.

Jonjo Shelvey has been captaining the side in Coloccini's absence, but if the Argentine is declared fit, then he could be installed directly into the starting XI.

Cisse has not played for three weeks, and is unlikely to be thrown into the starting lineup by Benitez, who opted for Aleksandar Mitrovic to lead the line against Leicester.

Chancel Mbemba is also in line for a return as he has been training following six weeks out of action with an ankle injury.

As for Sunderland, midfielder Lee Cattermole was forced to miss his side's match against Southampton due to concussion that he suffered in the previous game against Crystal Palace.

Jermain Defoe could return to the starting lineup as he has scored seven goals in his last eight league matches away from home, while Jeremain Lens is also in contention for a return.

Newcastle United possible starting lineup:
Elliot; Janmaat, Coloccini, Lascelles, Colback; Sissoko, Anita, Shelvey, Wijnaldum, Perez; Mitrovic

Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Mannone; Yedlin, Kone, Kaboul, Van Aanholt; Kirchhoff; Borini, M'Vila, Rodwell, Khazri; Defoe

Head To Head

As mentioned, Sunderland have a much better recent record over Newcastle given that they have won the last six meetings between the two.

Newcastle have gone eight games without beating their bitter rivals - the last time they tasted victory over Sunderland was in 2011 when Ryan Taylor scored the winner from a set piece.

The last time these two clubs met was in October last year at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland won 3-0 following goals from Billy Jones, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson, who was sacked by the club last month after admitting to a child sex charge.

The last result at St James' Park between these sides was a 1-0 win for the Black Cats, and Johnson was the man to score in the 90th minute.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Newcastle United 1-1 Sunderland

Benitez has only been in charge of Newcastle for one game since taking over, and Sunday's clash against Sunderland does not come much bigger for a Magpies fan. Sunderland head into the match on the back of an impressive record, and Allardyce has proven in the past that he can frustrate Benitez's teams, but the Spaniard has shown promise in Newcastle's display against Leicester. The team will be determined to get a result in front of their home support, but Sunderland are desperate for results too, so a score draw could be on the cards.

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Sam Allardyce bellows during the Premier League game between Southampton and Sunderland on March 5, 2016
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Allardyce: 'Tyne-Wear derby one of the biggest'

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