Newcastle boss Steve McClaren is keeping his cards close to his chest as he mulls over his biggest derby decision – whether to start Cheick Tiote or Vurnon Anita in midfield against Sunderland.
Tiote returned from a knee injury in last weekend’s 6-2 win over Norwich.
But the Ivorian – who has only played a handful of games this year because of injury – lasted just 45 minutes and was replaced by Anita.
Head coach McClaren felt the combative player, sent off the last time Newcastle claimed a point from Sunderland at the Stadium of Light three years ago, was tiring and in danger of getting a second yellow card.
McClaren must now decide whether to play him in Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby.
Asked about his decision to take Tiote off against Norwich, McClaren said: “I think just because of the yellow card.
“I was a little bit conscious of that and the state of the game at the time.
“I know Cheicky hasn’t played for a long time, and the tireder he gets the more impetuous he gets. Another yellow would have put us in a lot of trouble, and I didn’t want to risk that.
“At 3-2 at half-time, it was too big a moment to take a risk. I had every confidence in Vurnon.
“I was delighted with some of the performances. Robbie Elliot was composed and calm. (Paul) Dummett, for his first game, was excellent, and we know what Cheicky can do.”
McClaren – whose side are 18th in the Premier League and three points above basement club Sunderland – chose not to directly answer a question on the choice he seemingly has to make between Tiote and Anita.
He said: “I think it was good getting Dummett back and Tiote getting some minutes on the field.
“In terms of where we’re at now compared to where we were two or three weeks ago, in terms of injuries, we’re a lot better as well as players performing to the standard and their potential.
“We need that again. We need consistency. We talked about that two weeks ago ... a terrific 45 minutes against Chelsea, a terrific 45 minutes against Chelsea to try make that 95 minutes.
“We’ve got a little closer to that, not the full 90-95 minutes, but we’ve got closer now. We need to go on.
“It’s an old cliche, but it’s really about what we do this week. We can’t influence over there – we wouldn’t want to, and wouldn’t try to. They’re preparing themselves, which they will do thoroughly under Sam (Allardyce).
“We’ve just got to say ‘this is what we’ve got’ and ‘this is how we approach the game’.”