TONIGHT, it is the derby of the doomed at the Riverside.
And one man in the stands will know exactly how the two teams are feeling — having suffered relegation on both sides of the Tees-Wear divide.
Argentinian Julio Arca, 36, was a member of the last Sunderland and Middlesbrough sides to drop out of the Premier League, back in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
Keep up to date with ALL the football news, gossip, transfers and goals on our page plus fixtures, results and live match commentary
So memories of those two catastrophic campaigns will come flooding back to the midfielder when he takes his seat at the match as a guest of the Boro.
Arca, who still lives in the North East and is back playing semi-pro for Northern League South Shields, explained: “I have been in the position of these players and it is not nice.
“You feel for the fans and you feel for yourself because the last thing you want as a footballer is to get relegated. It’s the lowest you go in your career.
“It is sad to see the North East teams struggle again. I have lived here half of my life and spent my whole football career here.
“The connection the people have here with football is like nowhere else.
“You want all three of the big North East clubs up there in the Premier League because you want to see the big derbies.”
After tonight, however, the next Tees-Wear derby is almost certainly going to be in the Championship.
As it stands, Middlesbrough are nine points from safety heading into their clash with rock-bottom Sunderland, who are a whopping 12 points adrift.
And there are similarities with the clubs this season and the years that Arca went down with them.
In 2005-06, Sunderland, who were bossed by Mick McCarthy before Kevin Ball took over as caretaker, were dumped out of the Prem with a then record-low points tally of 15.
They were in the drop zone for all but one week of that season and were bottom from October.
Under David Moyes this term, the Black Cats have just 21 points and have only spent two weeks outside of the bottom three.
And Arca, who was also relegated with Sunderland in 2003, admitted: “The 15-point season in 2006 is not one of those things you really want to talk about when you are looking back on your career.
“That was my lowest moment. We had some good players but we probably didn’t have the quality to stay in the Premier League. We were losing games sometimes just 1-0 or 2-1 but every time we conceded we thought, ‘Oh God, here we go again’.
“And that’s what seems to happen sometimes with the current Sunderland side.
“They should have everything to be a stable Premier League club — the fans are great, the training ground and stadium are fantastic.
“And after what happened last year with Sam Allardyce keeping them up, the fans probably thought they had a chance to be a mid-table team with that stability.
“But then Sam left and David Moyes came in and things haven’t worked out.
“It will be interesting to see what the chairman does with the manager in the summer and to see how many players will leave and if there will be money to spend.
“Every year in the Championship gets harder and harder — many teams are now spending a good amount of money. So it will be hard for Sunderland to go down and come back up.”
In contrast to Sunderland’s season, Boro only slipped into the relegation places for the first time on March 4.
They were 14th at the start of December but have not won a Premier League game in 2017, with Spaniard Aitor Karanka — who took them up last term — sacked and replaced by his No 2 Steve Agnew last month.
And again there are comparisons with the last time they fell through the top-flight trapdoor.
That was under current England boss Gareth Southgate, when they went down having been as high as eighth after 13 games in that 2008-09 campaign. And Arca, speaking to SunSport before training at South Shields’ Mariners Park ground, said: “I never saw that relegation coming in 2009.
“The two seasons before we had finished 12th and 13th and we wanted to push on even more and finish in the top ten.
“We started the season well and really we had some great players in that team. But then we slowly started dropping and dropping and we found ourselves in the bottom three.
“When you find yourself there, you are desperate to get out and you are probably trying too hard. You are doing things you probably don’t usually do because of the pressure.
“We ended up going down with what I thought was a very good team and you end up asking yourself how?
“At the beginning of this season, I thought it was going to be hard for Middlesbrough coming up from the Championship.
“Then Karanka signed some big names and I thought they might have a chance.
“But there were also a lot of foreign players that had never played in the Premier League before, and some take longer to adapt than others.
“They have been good defensively but they are not scoring goals and that’s why they are where they are.”
And as Arca knows only too well, being in the perilous position of both Middlesbrough and Sunderland at this late stage of the season can only lead to one thing . . .