Northern Exposure: O'Neill's entrance adds spice to Tyne-Wear derby
Everywhere you go up here, there is only one question. Who's gonna win
It's the 145th Tyne-Wear derby, Martin O'Neill's first as Sunderland manager, Alan Pardew's first at home and third after last season's draw and the most recent 1-0 triumph at the Stadium of Light.
The two managers hold the key to North East bragging rights and it will come down to their players' bottle.
Showdown: O'Neill takes charge of Sunderland in his first Tyne-Wear derby
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Sunderland have lost so many of their recent visits to Tyneside on the team bus.
That's where last season's 5-1 capitulation started and they were easily battered into submission.
Thousands of the visitors headed to their own waiting buses long before the final whistle, to the delight of Newcastle supporters. Steve Bruce never really recovered from that Halloween horror show.
At least half of O'Neill's starting line-up are likely to be newcomers to today's events, and thus oblivious to the concept of real revenge, but whether that is an advantage is down to them. Handle the occasion and the hostile atmosphere and they and Sunderland have a chance.
Last week's shock 4-0 defeat at West Brom – and as O'Neill said this week of one his own games at Roker Park for Nottingham Forest, quoting Bill Shankly, Sunderland were lucky to get nil – was a reminder of the fragilities which hindered the team before O'Neill's dramatic arrival.
Under normal circumstances, the manager might be expected to make changes and he was denied an opportunity to show a very different side to his nature on Monday morning when the majority of his squad disappeared on international duty. But this is the derby.
It would make sense to give Fraizer Campbell the chance to put the top hat on his incredible week but that means changing his preferred away line-up which, has been selected to cater for injuries, but usually leaves Stephane Sessegnon as a makeshift but very effective striker.
He fits delightfully into the whole behind the frontman, so one of the regular four midfielders will have to miss out. His long journeys to and from Africa are not ideal preparation but it is unthinkable that he will not start.
Bouncing back: Newcastle surrendered a two-goal lead to Wolves and Sunderland shipped four to West Brom
O'Neill, and Sunderland fans, will also be hoping that Phil Bardsley's calf strain, which forced him to pull out of Scotland's game, is not serious.
The prospect of Sotirios Kyrgiakos making his debut at Newcastle, because John O'Shea has to move to the right, will not sit comfortably with many of the red and white persuasion. Wayne Bridge also sits in the wings, leaving options with Kieran Richardson's involvement.
Sunderland have proved very useful under O'Neill on their travels but on home form alone, this is a Newcastle win.
Wolves denied them a fourth successive home success last week through sheer hard work but it was a useful run-out for Cheik Tiote and Yohann Cabaye, another sustained period together for Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse and a bit of a wake-up call for the back four.
Ba's performance was arguably his least effective in a Newcastle shirt, so he owes his manager which makes him a very dangerous beast. He has gone two games without scoring and that has only happened once before this season.
'I think this is a big game for Demba,'
said Pardew. 'I spoke to him after the Wolves game, and told him I
thought he could have played better.
All change: Hughton and Bruce were in charge of the respective sides when Newcastle thrashed Sunderland 5-1 in 2010
'We need him at his best if we're going to win this game and I think he's aware of that.'
Cisse's groin strain should have cleared to make him available to partner Ba but Pardew has made it clear Shola Ameobi is very much in his thoughts.
The much and unfairly maligned striker has an incredible derby record and fits the occasion. The head cold which forced him home on Friday will not be an issue.
Pardew said: 'Fans should not underestimate just how important Shola is to us in that dressing room. Whether he plays or not, he's always the same.
'He's extremely influential. He never swears, but he makes it very clear to everybody how important it is to wear that jersey. I don't care how ill he is, I will have him in that dressing room.'
So who's gonna win Who knows