WARY Sunderland manager Peter Reid is tensing himself for a back-lash today.

His close friend, Boro manager Bryan Robson, hopes to plot a derby upset with his new right-hand man, former England boss Terry Venables, at a packed Stadium of Light.

Sixth-top Sunderland are odds-on favourites to gobble up the relegation threatened Teessiders in their 2,000th home League game, but veteran campaigner Reid knows that the form book often goes out of the window when regional rivals cross swords.

And he insists : "I think Boro will stay up."

Reid has maintained contact with Robson during the build-up to the big game, and while he shies away from making any public comment about the new-look managerial alliance at the Riverside he has found his friend to be in good spirits.

"I have spoken to Bryan a couple of times this week and he seems to be relaxed," said Reid.

"Terry Venables was my coach at Under-21 level and I got on with him well. He nicknamed me 'Rocky' but I'm not sure why.

"He was a bubbly character and a really good coach. You can only work with people and I think that is his strength.

"I thought he was the best man for the England job - he was English and he was available. Bryan has decided to take him in and that's his choice.

"I know they work together very well and they will have their players up for this one."

Reid added: "I don't know what system they will play against us - that will be interesting - but I have a feeling it will be a furious, passionate, competitive game.

"I don't know how it will pan out but it will be really tight.

Derby games are notoriously difficult to forecast. It's 11 against 11, you get a lot of passion and you never know what's going to happen.

"I think the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light will be something else.

"It will be a full house and it will be a lively place to be."

Sunderland have climbed steadily up the table after three consecutive Premiership victories and Reid believes his players could not be in a better mood as they go into a big game.

He said: "I think our players have been upbeat about the game. They were very pleased with the way we beat Everton on Monday.

"The amount of good football they played and the energy levels they displayed were terrific.

"The win has given them a lot of confidence and it is a game they are up for. I think it will be a really close game - a really difficult one for us.

"But if we play really well like we have been playing I think we might be able to nick it."

Sunderland have injury problems, with fullback Chris Makin and Scottish international midfielder Don Hutchison both again ruled out after missing the game against Everton.

The versatile Darren Williams will again deputise in defence, with Gavin McCann continuing in a central midfield role alongside Alex Rae. Rae is being tipped for a full Scottish cap following recent performances, which have included a couple of spectacular goals against Charlton and Everton.

Brazilian central defender Emerson Thome has been having treatment for a thigh injury, but he is expected to be able to continue his fruitful partnership with Jody Craddock in the heart of the Sunderland defence