High stakes as Newcastle aim to end Sunderland streak
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has ordered his players to forget their dreadful derby record against Sunderland as they attempt to put it right in the club's hour of need.
Six times on the trot the men from Wearside have got the better of their neighbours from the banks of the Tyne with Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren all sampling the bitter taste of defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals.
But Benitez, a veteran of derbies on Merseyside and Milan, Madrid and Naples knows the only one that matters is the next one, and it is with that thought that he will send his troops into battle at St James' Park on Sunday.
Asked if the Black Cats' recent dominance of the fixture would way heavily on his players, the 55-year-old Spaniard said: "Not really.
"When you have a derby, anything can happen - every game, every season, every manager, new players, so everything changes and hopefully we can change also the result and the score will be good for us.
"But you cannot be thinking about what happened in the past, you have to concentrate on what you will do on the pitch and what will happen in the future. It's really good if you can win, and we will try to think about that and nothing else.
"We know that every game is really, really important and especially this one because it's a derby and the situation in the table for both teams, so we know we have to get these three points to keep the positive mood that we have at the moment."
Any positivity on Tyneside stems from Benitez's arrival in place of McClaren, whose reign belatedly came to an end after a dismal 3-1 home defeat by Bournemouth which left the club in desperate relegation trouble.
There were signs of an improvement on Monday evening when Newcastle lost to the only goal - and a special one at that - in a hard-fought game at leaders Leicester, but their twin inabilities to keep clean sheets and score goals remain costly.
Benitez said: "They [the players] know we played against Leicester at the top of the table and we did a good job.
"We lost and that is the main thing, but still you could see some positives, so I will try to start with these positives and then approach the derby with this idea that we have done good things and they have to carry on doing these good things for a while.
"At this stage of the season, every game, every point is really important and we have to be really, really focussed."
Sam Allardyce has warned Sunderland they will only stand a chance of collecting a seventh successive derby victory if they are mentally prepared for a nerve-jangling battle.
The Black Cats make the short trip knowing the stakes have rarely, if ever, been higher with both clubs languishing in the lower reaches of the Barclays Premier League table and knowing the odds on both staying up are receding by the week.
Allardyce said: "Mentally you have to be right, my players need to be right mentally. My focus has been on the mental side of this game because there's so much at stake.
"They have to make sure they can manage the game well mentally to produce the abilities they have got, which will hopefully give them the desire and the ability and the aptitude to try to win this game.
"If we keep control mentally, we will be in a very good place because we have been playing pretty well. We have to focus on making sure when a chance comes our way that hopefully we will have the right player at the right time to convert that chance into a goal."
Allardyce, who spent an ill-fated eight months in charge at St James' at the start of owner Mike Ashley's controversial reign, will return without bitterness, but determined to enjoy himself in the best possible way.
He said: "There's only one way you can enjoy a derby, and that's by winning it. There's no other way. You can say the atmosphere is great, but it's not great if you don't win it.
"The only way you can really enjoy a derby match is by actually winning it, and of course you want to not just win it for yourself, you want to win it for the fans. You know how important it is to them and you want them to have the bragging rights for the rest of that week."