Pitchside

Midfield enforcers hold key to derby showdown

Pitchside

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Gus Poyet's reign as Sunderland manager got off to the worst possible start as his demoralised side were put to the sword by Swansea last weekend. The pressure on the Uruguayan to make an immediate impact due to the club's desperate position will only intensify in his first home game in charge, and it's fair to say that the result in this Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby could make or break the Black Cats’ season.

They host a Newcastle side that have problems of their own, particularly at the back, with captain Fabricio Coloccini sidelined and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa suspended having seen red last time out. Off the pitch things are far from serene too, with fans protesting against chairman Mike Ashley's presumed lack of ambition in the transfer window gone by, with the loan signing of Loic Remy representing the Magpies' solitary summer addition.

However, Newcastle fans need only look to their fiercest rivals for a reminder that plentiful changes often bring about a dip in form and morale among the players. It's Poyet who now has the unenviable task of remoulding a squad of Paolo Di Canio acquisitions into something resembling a team - which looks some way off just yet.

Lose this match and the hosts’ fans will fear for the worst, even at this early stage of the season. Win it, however, and such a passionate and meaningful game could act as a catalyst in a season that up to now has brought nothing but gloom to Wearsiders.

The last meeting between the two in April served as a turning point in Sunderland's season having slipped perilously close to the danger zone after a run of nine league games without a win. The 3-0 victory at St. James' Park was also the second game in charge for Di Canio, and how Poyet would love to replicate his predecessor's result. Sunderland went on to beat Everton in their next match and effectively secure their survival.

The 1-0 win over the Toffees is, however, the last time that Sunderland picked up three points in the league and they've suffered due to their profligacy in front of goal. No side has a worse shot accuracy this season (19.2%) and only Stoke have a worse conversion rate (5.1%).

Meanwhile, at the other end, they've conceded the most goals this season (20), with Palace the only other team to let in more than Newcastle (14). With the visitors short on defenders, Sunderland will be confident of adding to that tally, but they'll need to keep a full compliment of players on the pitch to do so.

If one thing is generally assured in meetings between these two rivals, it's that there will be plenty of cards on show. The Black Cats have had four men sent off in the last six meetings- while Newcastle have had one man dismissed in those matches and are the only side to have picked up two red cards already this season.

The usual suspects are likely to play a part in this regard, with Lee Cattermole and Cheick Tiote both having seen red in the Tyne-Wear derby, and the midfield contest could be key. The former has made the most interceptions per game of the opposing sides (2.8), while the latter has averaged the most tackles (4).

With these games often descending into blood and thunder encounters rather than matches rich in quality, Sunderland may need to win this battle if they are to win the war against relegation.

Martin Laurence - @martinlaurence7 - Editor in Chief WhoScored.com

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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