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Premier League Preview: Newcastle United - Middlesbrough

Kick-Off: Monday, May 11; 20:00; St James' Park, Newcastle

Neither Alan Shearer nor Gareth Southgate would have wanted so much to be riding on this Tyne-Tees derby. However, the ramshackle nature of the seasons of both Newcastle United and Middlesbrough has made it so.

The north-east has not done itself proud in this Premier League season, with Sunderland also propping up more than their fair share of opponents in the table.

But the the Black Cats' neighbours have fared even worse. Newcastle under Alan Shearer have not been any better than Newcastle under Chris Hughton or Joe Kinnear. Shearer spoke of the eight games the side had to save themselves upon his installation at the helm. They now have three, of which this is the most important and winnable.

Form has not been good though; Newcastle have failed to win any of their previous ten Premier League games and are tied on 31 points with both West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough. Last week's demoralising hiding at the hands of Liverpool did little to mask the glaring deficiencies that have plagued the Toon's season. Lax marking from set-pieces, indiscipline and lack of imagination in attack punctuated a limp display that leaves the Magpies listless; even more so thanks to West Brom's weekend win.

When Middlesbrough took four points from Hull City and Fulham in two matches around a fortnight ago, there was renewed hope around the Riverside that perhaps the team could avoid the drop. Newcastle were caught, and passed, in the table and Gareth Southgate cut the figure of a manager who actually believed his team would escape.

The last two matches, defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United, would have conceivably been conceded when the fixture list was released last summer, but the derby has loomed into focus as a clichéd 'must win' tie.

However, the Tyne-Tees derby is one of the most difficult in the Premier League to pick up the three points, with each of the last four ending level.

The loser, if there is one, faces being cut adrift with the Baggies at the bottom, while the victor will take a huge step towards safety. However, there remains the strong possibility of a draw, and with it, the small crumb of comfort that is a single point each.

Parity could doom both sides, a win for either will condemn the other. Suffice to say, there has never been a bigger game for either manager in their nascent Premier League careers. By Monday night, one could be facing the dread of working in the Championship.

Form Guide

Newcastle United:


May 3 v Liverpool (A) LOST 3-0

Apr 27 v Portsmouth (H) DREW 0-0

Apr 19 v Tottenham Hotspur (A) LOST 1-0

Apr 11 v Stoke City (A) DREW 1-1

Apr 4 v Chelsea (H) LOST 2-0

Middlesbrough:

May 2 v Manchester United (H) LOST 2-0

April 26 v Arsenal (A) LOST  2-0

April 18 v Fulham (H) DREW 0-0

April 11 v Hull City (H) WON 3-1

April 4 v Bolton Wanderers (A) LOST 4-1

Team News

Newcastle United:

Joey Barton is suspended following his dismissal against Liverpool last week, while Jose Enrique is still struggling with hamstring problems. Alan Smith has a thigh injury and is not likely to feature but Steven Taylor is back in training.

Possible Line Up: Harper; Beye, Taylor, Coloccini, Duff; Butt, Nolan R Taylor, Gutierrez; Owen, Martins

Middlesbrough


Emanuel Pogatetz has been ruled out of the run-in with a knee injury and Chris Riggott will miss the derby with ankle trouble. Andrew Taylor has shaken off a hip problem and may return to the squad.

Possible Line Up: Jones; Taylor, Wheater, Huth, Grounds; O'Neil, Digard, Tuncay, Johnson, Downing; King

Players To Watch

Newcastle United:


Goals have been at a premium for the entire Newcastle number this season, but the potential remains with the likes of Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins in the squad. The Nigerian has only hit seven strikes so far this term, but could feature prominently as a former Magpies no.9 tries to get the goals flowing.

Middlesbrough:

Possibly playing his his last Tyne-Tees derby, Stewart Downing will want to sign off on a high note. The England international possesses the pace and trickery to unlock a potentially shaky Newcastle back-line.

Prediction

With West Brom winning at the weekend, the points on offer here are made even more vital. Scarcely has there been a higher-stakes derby for these clubs in the Premier League and both Shearer and Southgate need the win. However, two sides low on quality could slit each other's throats.

Newcastle United 1-1 Middlesbrough