Miles Starforth: A Steve McClaren suns himself, Newcastle will feel the heat

It'll be breakfast time in the Caribbean when the Tyne-Wear derby kicks off.
Could Aleksandar Mitrovic be dropped?Could Aleksandar Mitrovic be dropped?
Could Aleksandar Mitrovic be dropped?

Steve McClaren – on a sunshine break there a week after his dismissal at Newcastle United – would be forgiven if he opted for the beach rather than a seat in front of the TV in the bar.

It’ll be a lot cooler on Tyneside.

But the heat at St James’s Park will be intense.

There hasn’t been a derby quite like it, and Sunday’s game could go a long way in deciding the Premier League fate of the North East’s two great rivals. Admittedly, there’ll still be eight games left after the last ball is kicked at St James’s Park.

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But a seventh successive derby win for Sunderland, would leave Newcastle four points adrift of safety and put the club in a seemingly irreversible slide towards the Championship. Likewise, a home win would turn the tables and leave Sam Allardyce’s side in a difficult position.

That said, both teams will have time to recover from a derby defeat.

However, momentum, and confidence, are all-important at this stage of the season.

Newcastle did the right thing last week. Had McClaren stayed on as head coach, then relegation was surely inevitable.

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The club simply had to act, and it did. And under Rafa Benitez, they have a better chance of staying up.

There were signs of life from a previously-lifeless team at the King Power Stadium on Monday night. Benitez had a plan to stifle leaders Leicester City, and it almost worked.

United were only beaten by an overhead kick from Shinji Okazaki.

They were better organised and had a better shape. They worked harder – Moussa Sissoko, for one, looked a different player – and gave Leicester an uncomfortable night.

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Newcastle will need to make it equally uncomfortable for Sunderland at St James’s Park.

To do that, they will need to trouble Vito Mannone in the visiting goal.

And that’s the hard part.

United, all too often this season, haven’t worked the opposition goalkeeper, and Benitez has a decision to make up front. Does he drop Aleksandar Mitrovic?

The striker, so far this season, has been better with his back to goal than facing it, and if he is to keep his place, he needs support up front.

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It’s hard to see Papiss Cisse being fit enough to start given that he’s not kicked a ball in anger in almost three months.

What is clear is that Newcastle will need to score at least one goal if they are to take anything from the game, as the defence is unlikely to keep a clean sheet.

Benitez was delivering his players a detailed gameplan for the Leicester game an hour or so after his appointment. The 55-year-old will have a plan for Sunderland, who will come to St James’s Park looking to frustrate Newcastle for the first 45 minutes ahead of a second-half push.

Benitez, of course, knows what Allardyce is all about. He knows his tactics, he knows his methods.

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The pair have history from their previous Premier League encounters.

Allardyce wrote in his autobiography: “He didn’t like me and he thought he was superior.”

Sunderland’s manager added that Liverpool’s dramatic Champions League final win over AC Milan had “nowt” to do with Benitez.

Allardyce added: “I don’t blame Benitez for claiming credit, but as managers we know the truth. You get the credit for your tactical brilliance, when often it’s just luck.”

Luck is one thing Newcastle will need in this game. They haven’t had much, if any, of it in recent seasons.

And that’s the thing. One of the biggest things in United’s favour is the law of averages.