Sunderland away has to be turning point for Newcastle's season

Derby Day always has special meaning for Newcastle fans. But, the third-round FA Cup match on Saturday feels extra important in the context of an up-and-down season for Newcastle. A win against local rivals Sunderland has the potential to kickstart the Premier League campaign and serve as a launchpad to drive hard for European football next season. A loss? Well, a loss just isn't worth thinking about.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League
Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League / Stu Forster/GettyImages
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So far this season, Eddie Howe's Mags have been unimpressive. We sit 9th in the Premier League and have bowed out of all but one of the cups. Champions League returning to St James Park felt special. As a fan watching on, the weight of expectation seemed perfectly managed up until we faced a dominant Borussia Dortmund side back-to-back, and since that second loss in Germany, we haven't seen the Newcastle United of last season.

A loss to Bournemouth after that Dortmund defeat kicked off a run that has seen Newcastle win just three matches since, two of those against a ten-man opposition. It hasn't been pretty viewing, and watching from the sidelines, the most worrying aspect of the run is the lack of belief the players seemed to have. Whereas last season, the players walked out onto the pitch believing they could beat anyone. They now walk out, with the worry of losing.

As they say in football, 'Everyone's happier when you're winning'. It's a tough spot to be in. Without getting those vital three points most weekends, the self-doubt creeps in. But, there's one definitive way of getting your belief back. Smashing your local rivals at their place.

Three wins in 13 might make some fans think that this is the worst time to play Sunderland. But, it's quite the opposite. It's the start of January, a large part of the Premier League season to play, no more distractions other than the FA Cup, and a team in need of a morale-boosting victory. This is quite possibly the best time to play the Mackems.

Putting a couple of goals past them at the Stadium of Light, strolling to a win, and into the hat for the 4th round of the FA Cup. What better way to get those players believing again? Struggles would be ignored, missing out on the latter stages of the Champions League forgotten, and no Carabao Cup final erased from thoughts.

Minds will turn into what we can do for the next 18 Premier League matches will have in store for us. We won't be 9th, we'll be five points off 6th. European football will be back on the cards. This season will no longer be a write-off.

All with a win against Sunderland.

Of course, it won't be easy. They'll have intensity, they have nothing to lose. Expectations are all on us. But what an opportunity to silence those on Wearside, boost our team's morale, and jump-start our season all in one go.

Can we do it? I've got to believe we can.

Check out the match preview here!