NEWCASTLE manager Alan Pardew wants to plunge Sunderland deeper into relegation trouble – even though he believes the Premier League needs both clubs.
The two sides will meet at St James’ Park on Sunday with the stakes as high as they have been for years.
Victory for Newcastle – they last lost to their neighbours on home turf in 2000 – would leave the Black Cats facing an uphill task to drag themselves out of trouble with just five games remaining, while an away win would suck the Magpies back into the mix.
Pardew’s men, however, will run out buoyed by the manner of their midweek exit from the Europa League after pushing Benfica all the way in a bid to reach the semi-finals, and confident they have put the club back on the continental map.
The 51-year-old said: “Sometimes, the North East gets a little bit left to one side. The Manchester clubs get a lot of attention and London clubs do, and it’s nice that we have raised the profile of north-east football.
“For me, this fixture is important because I think it’s great for the Premier League to have Newcastle and Sunderland in the division – and I hope we both are for next year.
“We are both fighting for that at the moment.”
The respective league positions of the two clubs – Newcastle will start the weekend in 13th place, five points clear of Sunderland, who remain outside the bottom three only on goal difference - give an already highly-charged fixture added importance.
Pardew and then Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill were involved in a heated exchange on the sidelines during the corresponding fixture last season, but the former West Ham manager will face a different opponent this weekend.
The Newcastle manager wrote to O’Neill’s successor Paolo Di Canio following his appointment at the Stadium of Light to welcome him to the region, and is relishing the chance to go head-to-head with him just two weeks into his reign.
Pardew said: “He’s a winner and I have got no problem with anything he has done or said since he has been at Sunderland in terms of how he has conducted himself with us.
“He is very professional and that’s how he will be on the sideline, I am sure. He knows the spotlight will be on him, as it is on me as Premier League managers, and we have to conduct ourselves in the right manner.
“I have said before that this fixture has a little bit too much of a personal level of intensity.
“Actually, it’s a game of football, that’s what it is, and hopefully the better team will win on Sunday.
“We are in good form. We have got some players coming back who make us a little bit stronger, and I think it’s a tough game for Sunderland.”
Pardew’s derby record to date is impressive - he is unbeaten in four attempts, a run which includes a win and two draws at the Stadium of Light - but he would dearly love to record a first home victory this weekend.
He said: “It’s a passionate game played by two clubs who are 15 miles apart or whatever it is, passionate Mackems, passionate Geordies.
“But we have got 50,000 and that gives us a slight advantage, and I am sure they will want to make themselves heard.”
A third full house at St James’ Park inside a week will roar the Magpies on as they attempt to push towards the top 10, and Pardew knows just how important the spectators can be.
He said: “I’m not sure too many clubs in Europe could get 150,000 people through in seven days. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing when you look at the season we have had.”
Pardew was giving little away about his team selection with Steven Taylor, Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote fighting for fitness, but he did confirm that Hatem Ben Arfa will be involved once again after suffering no ill-effects from just his second appearance since December against Benfica.
The 26-year-old France international has been repeatedly linked with a summer move to Liverpool, but he insisted after his comeback that he is going nowhere.
Ben Arfa said: “I want to stay here. It is only journalists who talk about that. My agent has not talked about that to me.
“I am focused on Newcastle and 100 per cent Newcastle. I hope to stay here.”