Tyne-Wear derby: Sunderland v Newcastle BBC clash shows contrasting mood in two camps

Marco Gabbiadini during the BBC Newcastle Derby five-a-side football match at Soccerdome, North Shields, on Wednesday.

Marco Gabbiadini during the BBC Newcastle Derby five-a-side football match at Soccerdome, North Shields, on Wednesday.

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Predicting the outcome of the Tyne-Wear derby is best left to the likes of Rosie the Duck.

Superstition on both sets of the North East divide prompts an in-built reservation over forecasting the outcome of this game of games.

The Echo's Chris Young during the BBC Newcastle Derby five-a-side football match at Soccerdome, North Shields, on Wednesday.

The Echo's Chris Young during the BBC Newcastle Derby five-a-side football match at Soccerdome, North Shields, on Wednesday.

Novelty crystal-ball gazing from the likes of Silksworth pet Rosie (who incidentally foresaw a 1-0 Sunderland win in the Echo) is perhaps the safest prophecy to an encounter when form or footballing prowess is so often irrelevant.

But Sunday’s high-stakes showdown won’t culminate in a 7-7 draw - regardless of the defensive deficiencies of both sides.

That was the outcome of BBC Newcastle’s pre-derby five-a-side clash for Sport Relief this week; pitting Black Cats and Magpies teams of fans, pundits and journalists (including yours truly) in a high-octane tussle on Tyneside.

Like the real thing, the encounter was predictably frantic and lacking a touch of level-headed poise on the ball.

Yet the more intriguing aspect of the evening was the contrasting moods between the two camps when looking ahead to this weekend’s encounter, which could have such repercussions on the relegation battle.

Overwhelmingly, the mood among those with Newcastle allegiances was that this is a ‘must-win’ game for the Magpies after a run of six defeats out of seven has propelled them to second bottom in the table.

But while Sunderland are only a point ahead - albeit with a superior goal difference - there is a feeling that a point at St James’s Park would be a reasonable result for the Black Cats, particularly in preventing new Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez from generating a bounce effect from his appointment.

“Out of the two teams, I think if you asked Sam Allardyce if he’d take a point, I think he would,” said Sunderland legend Gary Bennett.

“I think it’s a game that Newcastle need to win.

“A point suits Sunderland more than Newcastle.

“You’ve got to look at the next two games and the one after the derby is West Brom at home, which, on paper, you look at it and it’s one we can win.”

Former Newcastle defender John Anderson disagrees; believing that a draw would offer little compensation to either side, given fellow relegation contenders Norwich lie neck-and-neck with Sunderland.

“I don’t think a point is good to either side,” said Anderson.

“It’s one of those derbies that I think both sides have to win. It’s important to them both.

“Sam Allardyce has been complaining that Sunderland can’t keep a clean sheet, so does he come to St James’s and set up to not concede or does he have a go and try to win the football match?

“It’s a real, real tight one because when you look at the positions of both clubs, it gives it a bit of extra edge.”

Sunderland’s inability to record a shut-out puts the emphasis on Allardyce to be positive in his approach, particularly as Newcastle are equally vulnerable at the back.

Both teams have shipped 54 goals in 29 Premier League games this season, with only cast adrift basement boys Aston Villa boasting an inferior record.

And after Newcastle conceded three goals in their last home encounter against Bournemouth - the final match of Steve McClaren’s reign - former Magpie Steve Howey says Rafa Benitez’s focus on defence has to pay off.

“For us, we’ve got to be nice and tight at the back,” said Howey.

“There has been a number of occasions this season, particularly in the last home game against Bournemouth, when we’ve been too open.

“We can’t let Sunderland get any momentum and give the crowd something to shout about.”

But if Sunderland can prevent Newcastle from finding the net in the opening exchanges, then ex-Black Cats striker Marco Gabbiadini believes Allardyce’s men will become stronger as the encounter develops.

Gabbiadini said: “If after 35 minutes, it’s 0-0 and Sunderland can go out and frustrate, I think the atmosphere will change in the stadium.

“I think it will be difficult for Newcastle after the run of results they’ve had.

“I know they’ve got a new manager and the fans will stay with him, but there will be a frustration if Sunderland can get through that stage of the game.

“If Sunderland wake up on Monday morning and they’re four points ahead of Newcastle, then that’s massive.”