After seeing their Europa League dream ended at the hands of Benfica on Thursday night, Newcastle head into their biggest game of the season today when they take on Sunderland at St James’ Park.

Most Geordies would prefer advancing to the semi-finals of a European competition over three points in their domestic campaign, although everything is different when Sunderland provides the opposition.

The clash is made even more important by the fact that the mackems could be plunged into further relegation trouble if Newcastle take the bragging rights, as they sit just one point above 18th placed Wigan, having played a game more than the Latics.

Magpies’ fans have been warned not to make any reference towards Paolo Di Canio’s fascist past when the action kicks off, as the controversy surrounding the Italian’s right-wing views finally seems to have settled after his appointment.

Newcastle will welcome back Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran, who were both ineligible for the midweek defeat to Benfica, while Cheick Tiote should return from injury. Davide Santon, Fabricio Coloccini and Ryan Taylor are all still injured but Steven Taylor is expected to be fit to start.

Following his impressive cameo against Benfica, Hatem Ben Arfa is again expected to be introduced from the bench as he continues his comeback from the hamstring injury that has ruined his season.

As for the visitors, top scorer Steven Fletcher and serial hacker Lee Cattermole are both out for the season, while defensive calamity Titus Bramble is also missing. Self-confessed Newcastle fan Danny Graham should start, while Carlos Cuellar is expected to return.

If Newcastle can claim maximum points, they will move up to 11th in the Premier League table and leave their bitter rivals level on points with Wigan, having played two games more. Should they lose, Sunderland will be favourites to join Reading and QPR in the Championship next season. Surely there has never been a bigger incentive for Newcastle to win a derby clash.