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John Carver Out to End Newcastle's Derby Hoodoo Against Sunderland

Although both clubs have gone through a change in management personnel, it is Sunderland, however, who enter this Easter Sunday game wilting under the immense pressure of a relegation battle.

Newcastle fans may not remember the latter stages of Alan Pardew's career with fondness and a chief justification for their misgivings with the former incumbent at St. James' Park is the dismal recent record against Sunderland.

Pardew departed the north-east with a most unwanted tag; the only Magpies manager to have tasted defeated in four consecutive Tyne-Wear derbies. Despite the fact that they are in a much more comfortable position in the league than Sunderland, the past three years have been among the darkest spells in Newcastle's bitter rivalry with the Black Cats.

In December, the 1-0 home defeat was a particularly difficult pill to swallow. Adam Johnson's 90th-minute strike was enough to give Sunderland yet another derby success and inflict further misery on their neighbours.

Although both clubs have gone through a change in management personnel, it is Sunderland, however, who enter this Easter Sunday game wilting under the immense pressure of a relegation battle.

Since their triumph over Newcastle in December, Sunderland have won just two of their proceeding 10 games, sacked Gus Poyet and slipped to the precarious position of 17th in the league table. Newcastle's form is not too dissimilar; they have lost three times in a row, including particularly bruising defeats to Arsenal and Everton in their last two outings.

John Carver confirmed that becoming the permanent manager of Newcastle would be his 'dream job', but the performances under his stewardship have not marked an improvement. His short reign has been far from smooth, but he is a committed student of coaching. He has been bold in ushering in a tactical rethink in recent months, making alterations to the 4-2-3-1 system he inherited from Pardew.

Although tactically bold and remarkably hard-working, Carver is fighting a losing battle in convincing Mike Ashley that he merits a permanent role as Head Coach. He has been set a target of finishing in the top-10 in the league; Newcastle are currently 12th, seven points off Stoke City in tenth, so a process of recuperation is essential to secure his long-term future at the club.

The Tyne-Wear derby is a colossal match for both of these clubs, so inflicting defeat on Dick Advocaat's struggling Sunderland side would win Carver massive brownie points and bolster this extended audition for Newcastle's managerial duties, especially as it will be in the Stadium of Light.

But what must Carver do to ensure he doesn't extend the losing streak to five games and intensify the fury of Magpies fans? A key factor in their most recent defeat, at Christmas, was the intelligence and dominance of Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson in the centre of midfield.

As Pardew threw every striker at his disposal onto the pitch in a recklessly effusive game plan, desperately attempting to snatch a momentous victory, Larsson grew increasingly influential in Sunderland's counter-attacks. He popped up in pockets of space all over the pitch with Newcastle's defence left hideously exposed by Pardew's gung-ho tactics. Stopping the Swede will undoubtedly be crucial to the outcome of Newcastle's day.

Carver must resist the urge to throw the gauntlet down to Sunderland, whose refinement under the vastly experienced Advocaat may have progressed and play a measured and calculated game. Sunderland may be fragile and desperately short of confidence, but Carver would be wise to exercise a cautious game plan.

Initiating a counter-attacking strategy, much like Poyet's at St. James' Park, may be the smartest tactical approach for Carver. Constructing such a derby day blueprint would utilise the power and pace of Moussa Sissoko and Remy Cabella while keeping the defensive shape and ensuring Newcastle do not fall behind before they can fire ahead.

The coach's attacking options have been bolstered in the build-up to the game. Rolando Aarons, who looks to be one of the most exciting prospects Newcastle have produced in recent seasons, is set to return on the substitutes bench after almost five months out with a series of injuries. A fellow attacking dynamo, Mehdi Abeid, is set for a first-team return and end a spell that has seen Carver's squad depleted with injuries.

With only eight games remaining, Carver is running out of time and an immediate reversal of the form that has seen the Geordies lose three on the bounce is essential. The exhausted cliche in football is that top-flight coaches take it one game at a time; Carver is facing perhaps the biggest game of his fledgling managerial career on Sunday against Sunderland. Carver must prove his worth in a game that has been a harrowing experience for the black and white half army of Tyneside. The time to end the hoodoo is now.

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