Steve Bruce has two major injury concerns ahead of the derby, with captain Lee Cattermole (back) and Danny Welbeck (hamstring) rated as having a 50-50 chance of making the game. The good news for Sunderland is that their defensive worries have been alleviated slightly with the return of Nedum Onuoha from a hamstring injury.
John Mensah (ankle) is expected to remain on the sidelines while Michael Turner (knee) isn’t expected back until the end of February. David Meyler (knee) will be out until March and Fraizer Campbell probably won’t see first team action until next season.
Onuoha’s timely return gives Bruce the option of moving Phil Bardsley to left-back with Kieran Richardson starting in a more central role, where he has featured already this season for Sunderland. Club captain Zenden is back from suspension and may come in at left-wing as Bruce looks for experienced heads to handle the occasion.
Probable Starting XI: Gordon; Onuoha, Bramble, Ferdinand, Bardsley; Elmohamady, Henderson, Richardson, Zenden; Bent, Gyan
Two of Newcastle’s top performers have been ruled out of Sunday’s clash. Andy Carroll has a thigh injury, and despite being sent on a trip to Dubai to recuperate, hasn’t recovered in time to make the derby. Cheikh Tiote’s appeal against his sending off in his side’s FA Cup defeat to Stevenage has been rejected by the FA and he will be suspended for the game.
In other news, Dan Gosling played 70 minutes in a reserve team match earlier this week but is unlikely to be risked from the start, so will feature on the bench for Newcastle. Sol Campbell has been ill but may join Gosling on the touchline while Ryan Taylor (ankle) and Hatem Ben Arfa (broken leg) are long-term absentees.
Manager Alan Pardew has confirmed that he will look to start with two up front, so expect Leon Best to retain his place after a hat-trick against West Ham last time out. He’ll start alongside Shola Ameobi, who has shrugged off an ankle injury to be fit for the game. Routledge will most likely replace Tiote, with Barton switching to centre-midfield. The alternative would be for Alan Smith to start centrally with Barton playing out wide on the right.
Probable Starting XI: Harper; Simpson, Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Routledge, Barton, Nolan, Gutierrez; Best, Ameobi
A derby that delivers goals
There’s a sense of expectation around this particular Wear-Tyne derby, what with Newcastle battering their local rivals 5-1 in the reverse fixture (as if anyone needed reminding) and the fact that there hasn’t been a goalless draw between the sides in Premier League history. In addition, Newcastle have only failed to score in one of their last nine games. Oh, and their last outing in the Premier League was a 5-0 thrashing of West Ham United.
Also, the Magpies don't have the most frugal defence – they’ve conceded 17 goals away from home this season, that’s the second most of sides in the top 10 (Blackburn saving their blushes with a shoddy 25 goals leaked). To be fair, Sunderland’s defensive record at home is fairly ruthless – they’ve only let in seven goals at home this season, enough to see them on level-footing with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.
But saying that, Sunderland’s defensive record on the road stood up fairly well until the previous derby, so best not to get too excited about the prospect of a clean sheet.
The history books tell a story
Although there are usually goals in this fixture, more often than not it’s Newcastle getting more of them in recent history. Sunderland triumphed over their rivals back in the 2008-09 season, but that was their sole victory at home against Newcastle since 1980. If Sunderland want to avenge their heavy defeat at St. James’ Park, they will have to rewrite recent history.
The Black Cats also have some catching up to do in terms of all-time results as well. Sunday’s meeting will be the 143rd between the sides with Newcastle coming out on top 56 times, Sunderland winning 44 times, and 46 draws. That said, there could hardly be a better time to do it as Newcastle are without their top scorer and arguably their best player of the season in Tiote.
The visitors will have to be firing on all cylinders to prevent defeat.