MARTIN O'NEILL has geared up for the 140th Wear-Tees derby by claiming Middlesbrough's return to the Premier League would enhance the North-East's profile - and help Sunderland attract better players to the area.

Boro head for the Stadium of Light tomorrow in the FA Cup to renew a local rivalry which has not been matched up for three years following a change in fortunes at both clubs.

While Sunderland's stock has risen after establishing themselves as a top-flight team following Roy Keane's instant success in delivering promotion in 2007, Middlesbrough have been on the slide.

However, under Tony Mowbray, the Teessiders have managed to address an alarming slump and they head into the fourth round tie with a good shout of promotion come May.

O'Neill, who turned down the opportunity to take over at the Riverside Stadium in the summer of 2006, is hoping Mowbray delivers after realising the extent of the football passion which exists in the North-East.

Mowbray described the area as an "island within the British Isles".

O'Neill said: "I understand what he means. In my growing up days, the North-East was very strong and, I might be in the minority in this, I'd want Boro to get promotion.

"Not at our expense, that's up to us. It'd be nice for this region to be strong again and you'd want really top class players wanting to come to play for the clubs here."

O'Neill did not want to reflect on his decision to reject Steve Gibson's overtures after Steve McClaren left to take on the England job five-and-a-half years ago.

At that time it was understood he wanted to stay further south with his wife. Having relocated north this time around, he is happy with how things have started for him on Wearside.

"Sunderland is a proper football club," said O'Neill, who was a Roker supporter as a child. "I don't know enough about Middlesbrough but it used to be the hotbed up here. It'd be great to get back to that.

"I don't think people's values have changed all that much. It's really a proper club. This club (Sunderland) has been everything I thought it would be and I'm still learning about it (the area) but there's no question that the passion is there for the club in abundance."

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, O'Neill also has one eye on the transfer window closing on Tuesday night.

The facial injuries to striker Nicklas Bendtner, which has ruled him out for weeks rather than days, has heightened the need to bring in a new forward and talks are continuing with Bolton for Kevin Davies.

Davies, 34, would be O'Neill's preferred short-term solution, but Bolton would prefer to sell him rather than allow him to leave on loan until the end of the season.

The Sunderland boss insisted none of the flock of trialists that have trained with the club will be given contracts, but did suggest there won't be any big money buys in the coming days.

"I've made some inquiries and the injury to Bendtner has made me think about it because you wouldn't want to be going in short handed," said O'Neill.

"If we do I'll certainly have attempted something but then if we don't I'll have to accept the younger lads will just have to get down to it: Ji Dong-Won, Connor Wickham and an injured Fraizer Campbell coming back.. But it'd be nice just to bring in somebody even if it wasn't too expensive."

But he insisted the decision to look for a short-term solution is not through an intention to bring Asamoah Gyan back after his season-long loan to Al-Ain. "I am keeping an open mind on that," he said.

O'Neill, who had 18 months out of the game after leaving Aston Villa in the summer of 2010, will be relieved when February 1 does come along.

"I feel as if December and January have just been one month with the games in quick succession, and then the January transfer window," he said.

"Maybe after the Norwich game on Wednesday, when you realise you can't do anything more in the transfer market, there might be time to take stock. So far it's been terrific and the results have obviously helped that. Long may it continue."