Sunderland are close to finalising a behind-closed-doors friendly for the end of this week to keep players sharp for the Tyne-Wear derby.
Sam Allardyce’s men are beginning a snail-paced spell of fixtures, where the trip to St James’s Park on Sunday, March 20, will be their only Premier League outing in the next four weeks.
With Sunderland’s bid to remain in the top flight on ice, Allardyce is keen to keep his players sharp for the final nine games - the first of which, against Newcastle, could be pivotal with the Magpies lying just one point adrift of the Black Cats in the relegation battle.
The likes of Seb Larsson and Younes Kaboul - who have both just returned from long stints on the treatment table - are in need of further game-time and Sunderland are close to arranging a friendly for Friday.
It won’t be the first time Sunderland have played a behind-closed-doors friendly this season after the Black Cats thrashed Newcastle 6-0 in January.
Allardyce told the Gazette: “We could play a friendly, although it depends who we can get.
“I think if we can get a side that will put a reasonable team out then we could play one towards the end of next week behind closed doors.
“We will be able to let some of the players play who haven’t played very much in a competitive match.
“If not, then we’ll have to try to arrange a game between ourselves.”
Allardyce will drill his players hard on the training ground over the next fortnight though, in a bid to start accompanying Sunderland’s positive performances with points.
Sunderland threw away two points after conceding a last-gasp equaliser at Southampton last weekend, to extend their run of Premier League games without a clean sheet to 15.
And it’s not just at the back that Allardyce believes improvements can be made.
“The training programme will be different over the next two weeks and there’ll be more emphasis on us being technically better in possession,” he added.
“We have to improve our final third play in delivery.
“I thought we got to the final third on a huge amount of occasions on Saturday, but could have provided that final ball better.
“And of course, the most important thing for me, is the defending.
“They’re going to be so sick and tired of the defending practices that they’ll be dreaming about it.”