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Good time for Sunderland to be playing Newcastle

Sitting comfortably above mid-table, Newcastle are understandably strong favourites (4/5 with Coral) to get the better of relegation strugglers Sunderland (100/30) at St James’ Park on Saturday.

But derbies are always notoriously difficult to predict, this one in particular, and Black Cats fans will be more optimistic than you may think they are entitled to be when the Tyne-Wear tear-up kicks off at lunchtime.

Sunderland have had the better of recent exchanges between these bitter rivals, most recently when they won 2-1 at the Stadium of Light in October, a first victory of the season at the ninth attempt, which also temporarily took them off the bottom of the Premier League.

Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini’s late winner also provided a much-needed boost for Gus Poyet a few weeks after he had replaced Paolo Di Canio at the helm and the Uruguayan has since guided Sunderland out of the bottom three and through to the final of the Capital One Cup.

They certainly aren’t out of the woods yet – Coral make them a shorter price (6/4) to be relegated than they are to beat Manchester City at Wembley (4/1), but they are at least now on the right path.

Poyet has been strengthening his squad this month with Argentine international forward Ignacio Scocco a particularly eye-catching signing from Brazilian club Internacional.

Newcastle, on the other hand, have lost their star midfielder Yohan Cabaye to PSG and are also without Loic Remy after their star striker failed to overturn a three-match ban following his midweek red card.

Luuk de Jong has been signed on loan from Borussia Monchengladbach for the remainder of the season, but boss Alan Pardew doesn’t think the Dutch forward is quite ready yet for his Premier League baptism.

Pardew is hoping that Newcastle can prise Clement Grenier, seen as a replacement for Cabaye, from Lyon before the transfer window slams shut on Friday night, but all in all this is not a bad time for Sunderland to be playing the Magpies.

That said, there is no doubt that Newcastle have been playing much the better football for the majority of the season and their fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that they can turn it on when it really matters to them, as they did when thrashing Sunderland 5-1 in October 2010, their last home derby victory.

Unable to call this with confidence either way, I think it might go the same way as three of the last six encounters have gone – a 1-1 draw (11/2).