NEWCASTLE manager Alan Pardew is backing Cheick Tiote and Vurnon Anita to win the midfield battle against Sunderland at St James’s Park.
Tiote will captain Newcastle against Sunderland in the 150th Tyne-Wear derby, and the combative Frenchman will have technically-gifted Dutchman Anita alongside him.
The sale of Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain has left a yawning gap in the Magpies’ midfield, but Pardew feels his new-look central midfield pairing can step up in tomorrow’s game.
Pardew is also confident that Tiote, sent off at the Stadium of Light last season, can keep his discipline in what will a fraught and intense game.
“I think Cheick’s been our best player this season, other than perhaps Yohan,” Pardew said.
“The captain’s armband seems to fit well with him.
“He likes that responsibility. I don’t think he’ll have any problems on Saturday, discipline-wise.
“Him and Vurn have been really good for us in recent weeks.”
Meanwhile, Pardew will today assess the fitness of Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse.
The pair – who missed Tuesday night’s game against Norwich City through injury – are both rated doubtful for the derby.
Gouffran has a muscle problem, while Cisse has a back problem.
“Papiss has been running, but I think he’s slightly doubtful,” said Pardew.
“I’m hopeful, though, but Gouff’s struggling.”
Otherwise, Pardew – who was also without Gabriel Obertan at Carrow Road – has no fresh injury worries.
* Don’t miss tomorrow’s derby special Football Echo – it’s online from around 7pm with the biggest and best coverage of the big day