He may be out to cause their downfall on Sunday, but Alan Pardew hopes Sunderland will accumulate enough points to remain in the Premier League.
The Black Cats have lost six of their last nine matches, and have not collected three points since their 3-2 win at Wigan Athletic on 19 January. This has plunged them into a battle for survival, and has also resulted in Martin O’Neill being replaced by Paolo Di Canio as manager.
Newcastle United are also far from certain of their place in the top-flight next season, as their tally of 36 is only five more than their North East rivals, with six games remaining. So whilst the derby fixture is always a tense affair, Sunday’s clash at St James’ Park is of huge importance.
Pardew knows a home win will all but secure the Magpies’ safety for another season, and even though this would plunge Sunderland into deeper trouble, he insists he hopes Di Canio can turn things around to ensure both clubs will be in the top-flight again next term.
“Sometimes, the north-east gets a little bit left to one side. The Manchester clubs get a lot of attention and London clubs do, and it’s nice that we have raised the profile of north-east football,” he said. “For me, this fixture is important because I think it’s great for the Premier League to have Newcastle and Sunderland in the division – and I hope we are both still there for next year.”
Newcastle have never looked likely to repeat their heroics of last season, when they were the surprise package of the Premier League and finished fifth in the table. Injuries haven’t helped their cause, but Pardew now has a much stronger squad, especially after bolstering his options in January, and he will be eager to get these last few games out of the way so he can focus on next term.
As for Sunderland, whilst a win on Sunday would boost their chances of survival, they would still have much work to do before Di Canio can start to even think of next season. Although they also play Everton and Aston Villa before the end of the month, their two successive home games with Stoke City and Sunderland at the start of May could be their most important of the campaign.