The short, temperamental reign of Paolo di Canio has left Sunderland wracked with hurt and doubt, while on Tyneside Newcastle United's state of mind has always been fragile since a clash of egos between Alan Pardew and Graham Carr left a rift wide enough for Joe Kinnear to manoeuvre himself back in as director of football. The two clubs appear unable to haul themselves away from the verge of calamity, and so a derby becomes a riveting prospect as it is defined by the neuroses of the two teams.
Sunderland are already fighting against relegation. That ought to be an absurd status in October, but the club became fractured under Di Canio, whose confrontational style with the players caused only dissension. Poyet has to repair the mood of the team and there has been no immediate upturn in results or confidence. The squad has reacted to his different style, but that is as much about him not being Di Canio as any managerial ploy.
There are bruised psyches and a subdued air. It can be turned around, of course, even if Sunderland are bottom of the Barclays Premier League with only one point from their opening eight games. Di Canio found the momentum and spirit to avoid relegation last season with a 3-0 win over Newcastle at St James's Park, a result that prompted one supporter to commemorate the moment by having a tattoo done of Di Canio sliding on his knees to celebrate the victory.
Poyet can be demonstrative, too, but he is considered to have greater emotional intelligence than his predecessor. His mood can still be fiery, but he understands, and so is more compassionate about, the process of players settling into a new environment. Thirteen foreign players arrived at the Stadium of Light during the summer - all identified by the director of football Roberto De Fanti, who has become an increasingly influential advisor to the owner, Ellis Short - and Di Canio had little patience for the growing pains of his team.
Poyet has insisted that only English is spoken, but he is not an abrasive or authoritarian figure. Those who know him speak of his man-management skills and he is shrewd enough to be a smart operator. Di Canio banned red and brown sauce from the club canteen, yet Poyet has described his meetings with Sunderland fans during trips to various restaurants in the area, and of the fact that one of his children is an England youth internationalist while the other is an avid cricket fan.
There are greater nuances to Poyet, but he must still achieve an unlikely rescue feat. The team may be more unified, but are still capable of being hapless, as last weekend's 4-0 loss at Swansea City emphasised. At Brighton & Hove Albion, Poyet achieved results while adopting a brand of patient, attacking football that was centred on retaining possession. Pardew expects the hosts to relent to the expectation from the fans to be on the front foot in the north-east derby, so his own thoughts are centred on exploiting counter-attack opportunities.
The balance in the region is currently in Newcastle's favour, but they are a club that is always only ever in a fragile peace. Kinnear's return last summer was a reflection of the fractured state of the hierarchy. The owner, Mike Ashley, was moved to restore his friend and confidante to a role at the club because of the strained relationship between Pardew and Carr, the chief scout who has identified so many of the talented players brought to the club on modest fees, particularly from France.
For a time this season, as Yohan Cabaye irked the support by lobbying for a move to Arsenal when Arsene Wenger showed an interest in the midfielder, Newcastle looked typically riven with factions again. The number of French-speaking players could cause a rift with the rest of the squad, but Pardew has managed to regain control. Results are still hopeful rather than positive, but there is at least a greater sense of unity of purpose.
Fabricio Coloccini could return to the side at centre-back despite being diagnosed with a groin injury that could take eight weeks to heal. Yet Pardew would also be confident enough to trust Paul Dummett, the young defender who spent a spell on loan at St Mirren last season and scored against Liverpool at St James's Park last weekend. The Newcastle manager has regained some authority and control, and his side are favourites for tomorrow's tie, but there is still an air of unpredictability about the occasion.
Pope Francis was pictured earlier in the week holding up a Sunderland shirt with his name on the back, having been handed it by the club chaplain, Father Marc Lyden-Smith, during a pilgrimage to Rome. The Pope was, though, "very diplomatic" and would not commit to supporting either side in tomorrow's derby.