Former Sunderland and Newcastle keeper Shay Given believes it would be folly to treat this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby as “just another Premier League game”.
Only a point separates the two North East rivals in the battle to remain in the Premier League, with Sunday’s St James’s Park clash potentially proving to be a decisive afternoon for the survival hopes of each club.
Newcastle also face the challenge of stealing the region’s bragging rights for the first time since August 2011 after Sunderland’s record-breaking six successive derby victories.
With so much stake at for clubs, Stoke City stopper Given says there is no point pretending to down-play the importance of the fixture.
Given said: “It’s a tense occasion. It’s huge for the fans, wanting to win this game more than any other game.
“But if you asked any Sunderland fan or Newcastle fan this week ‘would you take a loss at the weekend and stay up?’ they would probably do that.
“It’s definitely a six-pointer, they’re both in the relegation fight and it’s going to be so close who stays up.
“It looks like Aston Villa have gone, and that it’s between Norwich, Newcastle and Sunderland (for the other relegation places) so it looks as if one of the two big ones from the North-East are going to go down.
“This game at the weekend is monumental.
“It’s not just a normal game, it’s not just another Premier League game, it’s a very special occasion. You can cut the tension with a knife beforehand.”
Given’s allegiances lie on Tyneside after more than 400 appearances for the Magpies, compared to a four-month loan spell at Sunderland during the 1995-96 promotion season.
But the 39-year-old still has reservations over whether new Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez can get the message across to his predominantly overseas squad about the importance of this game.
“My only concern is that there are a lot of foreign players at Newcastle now,” added Given to Sky Sports.
“Sometimes you question whether they know what it means to play in such a big game as this - what it means to the fans, what it means for them going back to work on the Monday morning?
“You’d like to think Benitez can get that message across.”