NEWCASTLE United defender Steven Taylor is a doubt for the Wear-Tyne derby.
Taylor returned to training this week after a month on the sidelines with a hamstring problem.
But the 27-year-old is not certain to be involved against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
With Fabricio Coloccini injured and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa suspended, Taylor was pencilled in to start alongside Mike Williamson at the heart of Alan Pardew’s defence.
Manager Pardew will finalise his team selection today and tomorrow.
And should derby veteran Taylor fail to prove his fitness in time, Pardew will hand a start to Paul Dummett, who came off the bench to score in last weekend’s 2-2 home draw against Liverpool.
Dummett, 22, is a natural left-back, but the former St Mirren loanee can also play in central defence.
It will heap more responsibility on Williamson, but he is determined to help ease the pain of the absence of the experienced defenders and guide Dummett through the game if needed.
Coloccini is out of the derby with a groin problem, and Newcastle fear that the influential Argentinian faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
That is likely to spell an extended run in the side for Williamson, and the 29-year-old – who started the season out in the cold – is ready for the white-hot passion of what will be his sixth derby appearance.
And he insists he has the game to cope with the added pressure of leading the back four.
“I’ve always maintained it’s a fantastic honour every time I get the chance to put the shirt on,” Williamson said.
“That’s still the same. Every time I come in, I just try to do my best.
“I try and organise and limit the opposition, and get as many clean sheets and wins on the board as possible. It’s working out well so far.”
The key for Williamson and his team-mates is staying focused in the days leading up to the game, which is easier said than done given the intense build-up.
“It’s hard to get away from the passion – it’s everywhere,” said Williamson, whose first Sunderland game was the 5-1 St James’s Park rout three years ago.
“It’s all about keeping focused before it. Hopefully, you can relax and enjoy the day’s work after the game.
“It’s a game you always look forward to because of the atmosphere, the rivalry and the passion.
“I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s a fantastic game to be involved in.
“I’ve got good memories of derbies. There are some fantastic memories for myself, and I’ll look back on them at the end of my career.”
“I’m looking forward to it.
“If we perform like we did against Liverpool, we’ve got a great chance of getting something from the game.”
* Teenage Newcastle striker Adam Armstrong scored twice for England’s Under-17s in their 4-0 win over Armenia in Yerevan yesterday.
Armstrong and his team-mates face Gibraltar tomorrow and the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday as they attempt to reach the next round of qualifying ahead of the European Championships next May.