Jermain Defoe believes there is more pressure on Newcastle’s shoulders in this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby showdown, despite the desperate need of both North East clubs for precious points in the relegation battle.
Just one point separates Sunderland and Newcastle in the battle against the drop, with the prospect of at least one of the pair falling into the Championship making Sunday’s St James’s Park clash arguably the most crucial derby since the 1990 Division Two play-offs.
But Sunderland striker Defoe - the match-winner in last season’s Stadium of Light triumph over the Magpies - says Newcastle will be feeling the heat more than the Black Cats camp.
Newcastle have suffered a record six straight defeats in the fixture, have plunged to second bottom after four Premier League losses on the spin and need to create some upwards momentum under new boss Rafa Benitez.
Defoe told the Echo: “Both teams are desperate for points, so it’s going to be a special day.
“If we come away with three points, I think we’ll kick on and be fine.
“I think they’re the ones under pressure, to be honest.
“They’re at home and yes, the stadium is going to be electric. Their players will want to prove they deserve to be in the team under a new manager and they’ll be up for it.
“But we have to be confident with the way we’ve been playing and the results that we’ve got.
“We believe we can win the game. We’ve won the last six, so we’ve done it before.
“As Newcastle players, they’ll know that they need to win this one after losing the last six.
“Even if both teams weren’t in the situation that we’re in, it’s still the game of the season.
“It means so much to the fans, the club and the players, and with both clubs needing points, it makes it an even bigger game.”
While a seventh straight victory over Newcastle would thrust Sunderland into pole position in the battle for survival, Defoe agrees that the encounter is a ‘must-not-lose’, rather than a ‘must-win’.
A draw would at least keep Sam Allardyce’s men above the Magpies in the relegation battle, albeit Norwich could leave both North East clubs in the bottom three if they get a positive result at West Brom on Saturday.
“If we can win the game, the rewards are so big,” added Defoe.
“We want to be playing in the Premier League next season. It’s as simple as that.
“Time is running out and there’s not many games left, so it’s important that we get wins now.
“If we can’t win the game, we have to get a point.
“We cannot lose.
“But we looked solid in the performance at Southampton and I think we’ll take that into the game on Sunday.
“If we feel like we can’t score, then we’ll take a point.”