NEWCASTLE United boss Alan Pardew has pinpointed the midfield battle as being key to who wins Sunday’s derby.
The Magpies host rivals Sunderland at St James’s Park looking to maintain their recent superiority over the Wearsiders.
United go into the game on the back of a poor performance in the draw with Wolves, where they let slip a two-goal lead to only claim a point from a game in which they were cruising at half-time.
The Wolves clash was the first time midfield duo Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye had been partnered together in eight weeks because of Tiote’s African Cup of Nations commitments, and Cabaye’s suspension.
Both players looked rusty on their return, and struggled to cope with the visitors’ five-man midfield.
With Sunderland expected to employ a similar formation on Sunday, Pardew knows his influential pair must step up their game and get a grip on the centre of the park.
“It will be an interesting point of the game to see how well we cope with their five man midfield,” said the United boss.
“That’s what they’ll play.
“We need to cope better than we did against Wolves with our two strikers on the pitch.
“We have done that in the past, and we hope to do it again on Sunday.”
Tiote and Cabaye have both been away on international duty this week, but returned for training today ahead of the derby showdown.
Strike duo Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse were spared a gruelling trip with Senegal, however, with Cisse pulling out of the squad after picking up a knock against Wolves.
Pardew, though, believes the January signing will be fit for the Sunderland game, and expects to have a fully-fit squad to choose from.
“I don’t anticipate any problems,” he added. “At the moment we are OK.”
SEE Friday’s Mail for more Alan Pardew