Football: O'Neill ready for "massive" Tyne-Wear derby duel

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  • Saturday, March 3, 2012
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  • NEWCASTLE, March 3, 2012 (AFP) - Sunderland will look to dent Newcastle's Europa League hopes and boost their own outside chances of playing in Europe next season when they travel to meet their local Premier League rivals Sunday.
    The Black Cats make the short trip to the renamed St. James Park aiming to avoid falling victim to a league double by their North-East neighbours, who won by the only goal at the Stadium of Light at the start of the campaign.
    A 52,000 sell-out, the Tyne-Wear derby is new ground for Martin O'Neill, the Sunderland manager, who has presided over a remarkable up-turn in fortunes since taking over from Steve Bruce in December.
    Despite the 4-0 reverse at West Brom last time out, the Wearside club have won 10 of the Irishman's 16 games in charge. It's seen them through to the last eight of the FA Cup while climbing out of the Premier League bottom three to sit ninth, 10 points behind Newcastle, who are sixth. Both clubs have 12 fixtures left to play.
    Former Celtic manager O'Neill tasted the unique atmosphere of Glasgow's Old Firm derby on several occasions and said: "I've never experienced a North-East derby in terms of Sunderland versus Newcastle. By reputation, this one is right up there with the biggest in Britain. For generations, this area has been a hotbed of football this is a massive game, one I'm looking forward to.
    "It's a ferocious derby which I'm sure will be played at a great pace. We'll be be ready for it, and if we perform to our capabilities we can win."
    Sunderland haven't won at their arch rivals' for the last six visits, stretching back to November 2000. O'Neill added: "It's a big occasion and a big game and we've got to be ready for it by applying the same approach which has seen us do relatively well over the last couple of months."
    Newcastle, written-off by many before the start of the campaign for a season of struggle, have lost just twice at home this term to see them greatly over-achieve in their continued bid to return to European competition for the first time since 2006.
    Alan Pardew is keen to atone for the disappointing 2-2 home draw with struggling Wolves last time out, and the Newcastle manager said: "We just want to get four points from the two home games, and on the back of the run we've had at home, that would constitute a success."
    Sunderland have emerged victorious just once in the last 14 meetings with their local rivals, and were humiliated 5-1 on their most recent visit to Tyneside 16 months ago.
    Pardew warned his side not to rest on their laurels, and he added: "It doesn't matter what's gone on before, that's irrelevant. What it will be about is the day itself and how we play."
    Newcastle will make a late check on the forward Papiss Cisse, who pulled out of international action with Senegal in midweek with a groin problem.
    The recent arrival, who has scored twice in three games since a £9m move from German side Freiburg, is expected to be passed fit to take his place up front alongside compatriot and 16-goal top scorer Demba Ba.
    Sunderland are set for a defensive reshuffle due to the absence of Phil Bardsley, the Scotland international who is ruled out by a calf muscle problem.
    Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady could come in at right-back, or O'Neill could opt to switch John O'Shea there, with recent loan arrival Sotirios Kyrgiakos slotting into central defence.
    Fraizer Campbell, the forward who made his senior England debut in the 3-2 friendly defeat to Holland at Wembley in midweek, is pushing for a recall to the Sunderland starting line-up.
    Reserve goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is out with a wrist problem, so Craig Gordon, who hasn't played in the Premier League for more than a year owing to injury, returns to the bench as back up to Simon Mignolet.


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