Sam Allardyce reckons he and old pal Steve Bruce have never had a more important game.
West Brom boss Allardyce and his Newcastle counterpart Bruce have been best buddies for 30 years.
Allardyce,66, and his wife have previously even regularly holidayed with Bruce,60, and his wife.
But Allardyce admits their long-standing friendship will be ditched at the midday kick off at The Hawthorns on Sunday.
The hosts badly need victory to close to within six points of 17th-placed Newcastle to give their faltering survival hopes a huge boost.
While Newcastle are fighting to stay up and for Bruce’s future amid fan and player unrest.
Allardyce said: “We’ve had a lot of encounters.
“We both know that when we come to face each other we both want to win desperately, never more so than this one in the predicament we’re in.
“They’ve slipped down towards the bottom three and we’re in it.
“We’re both aware what a victory would mean.
“So while the game is going on we won’t be friends.
“If we beat Newcastle we’re only six points away from them, but if we lose we’re 12 points away, which would make it as big a task as anybody has achieved, to try and stay in the Premier League with the amount of games left.
“It could still be done mathematically but it would make life extremely difficult.
“That’s how big this one is.”
Allardyce had a brief spell in charge of Newcastle from May 2007–January 2008 before new owner Mike Ashley hired Kevin Keegan instead.
Ashley has since sought unsuccessfully to sell up to the growing frustrations of fans angry too at the failure to keep former boss Rafa Benitez, who opted not to sign a contract extension to accept a £12million-a-year role in China with Dalian Yifang.
Successor Bruce steered the team to 13th last year in his first year in charge and is now battling to keep them up again amid heavy flak from fans.
Allardyce reflected: “Who doesn’t get stick up there?
“The only manager I’ve seen manage up at Newcastle who hasn’t got any stick is probably Rafa Benitez.
“Everybody else, we’ve all had our fair share of stick: Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, myself, Glenn Roeder and Steve Bruce.
“You put Newcastle up in the top half or win a cup and you’ll be a hero, but if you put Newcastle down in the half where they don’t expect , then they’ll show their disapproval.
“When they pay their money they’re entitled to do that.
“We all get stick when we’re not perceived to be doing the job how we’re supposed to be.
“What you’ve got to do is make sure your players get the fans behind them by giving the performances the fans want, and the victories.”
Sunday’s visitors have won just twice in 15 games and their preparations have also been rocked by a row between Bruce and winger Matt Ritchie, who has apologised.
But Allardyce claimed: “I like disagreements.
“I like people to air their view.
“I like people to argue. It means they care.
“We shouldn’t be subservient and not speak up for ourselves if we feel we’ve been wronged.
“Then you just sort it out and get on with it, and it’s forgotten the next day. Or it should be.”