It is one of the most fiercely contested derbies in Britain at the best of times, but this year, with the threat of relegation hanging over both clubs, it is set to be as intense a fixture as at any time in recent years. So what does Newcastle United v Sunderland need?
Yes, that’s right – the introduction of everybody’s favourite maverick lunatic, Paolo Di Canio.
As if relations weren’t strained enough between the two clubs (and especially the fans), an already explosive derby has just become so nuclear even North Korea would think twice about detonating it.
You’ll probably see as much of the action on the touchline as you will on the pitch when watching this on TV such is the interest in Di Canio (and the hope he might push over a ref or even worse), and what a baptism of fire it is for the former Swindon boss in what is just his second game as a Premier League manager.
To be thrown into the match that means the most for the supporters on Wearside would be daunting for most men, but knowing what we know (steady now) about Di Canio, he will be relishing the chance to write his name in Sunderland folklore so early in his tenure.
And for the sake of Sunderland’s season, he really needs to. What has gone on in the technical area has been much preferable for the Black Cats fans compared to what has happened on the pitch, and a dreadful run of nine games without a win has left them above the relegation zone on goal difference alone.
Taking just three points from 27 has left Di Canio with a huge battle on his hands and it seems imperative he stops the rot at the home of his new arch-rivals.
The bookies at bwin don’t fancy his chances, with Sunderland quoted at 13/4 compared to 9/10 about Newcastle, and with the draw at 9/4, I do think this is a tough one to call.
You can’t be sure what type of effect Di Canio is going to have, and as such, backing a team on such a wretched run is risky.
But then Newcastle, now at the end of the Europa League run that has stretched their squad to breaking point, have lost three and drawn one of the last five, and odds-on in a derby for a team that have won just 36 points this season and still aren’t safe is a no-go for me.
Not when Di Canio still brings the unknown, and not when the draw has been such a player over recent seasons.
Five out of the last nine meetings have finished all square – in fact, five of the last nine have finished 1-1 – but in what I see as a volatile match, I am going to avoid the 3way market and play the 7/10 that both teams score.
Newcastle have tended to be involved in plenty such matches this season – 21, in fact, which is a total only Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Southampton can better.
And contrary to perception, Sunderland have been prone to games with goals at both ends, too.
Six of Sunderland’s last eight fixtures have featured strikes at either end, and away from home they have been surprisingly prolific.
Incredibly, the Black Cats have scored in 11 of their last 12 away fixtures in all competitions: I say incredibly, because the general feeling is that the Wearsiders have struggled to score all season.
So that means ten of their last 12 away games have seen both teams score, and with only Reading, Aston Villa and Wigan conceding more goals than Newcastle (only Reading have kept fewer clean sheets) I can see Sunderland scoring at St James’ Park.
But with just three clean sheets on the road, it is hard to see Sunderland keeping their rivals at bay, so the 7/10 on both sides finding the net looks like a solid bet to me.