Sunderland cause their own derby downfall to give Newcastle much-needed spark

Twelve years is a long time to wait for a derby day win, but when they are handed to you on a plate by your arch-enemy, who did everything possible to shoot themselves in the foot before the match too, victories do not come any sweeter than this.

Nobody needed this success more than Eddie Howe. Defeats to Sunderland have been the undoing of several Geordie bosses – Ruud Gullit and Alan Pardew to name a couple – with Howe under real pressure for the first time since taking charge having seen his side lose six of their last seven league games in the run-up to a derby clash that nobody really wanted.

Sunderland are a team in transition under new boss Michael Beale and operate in a different world, in terms of spending power, to Newcastle – a clash between the pair reminds supporters of this gulf these two, once on a similar level playing field, have between them.

Had Newcastle put their rivals to the sword, as a full-strength Premier League top-four chaser should, then Sunderland supporters would have accepted an end to their nine-game unbeaten run against their north-east neighbours with little angst. What unfolded instead was a mess typical of the past few years in these parts – one of their own making.

Despite the trepidation, supporters were still determined to enjoy their day. Thankfully, no horses were harmed in the making of this derby, as a huge police presence ensured fans were kept very much apart, from the doorstep to the terraces.

No chance was being taken. Six thousand Newcastle supporters were forced to queue up at St James’ Park five hours before kick-off to collect their tickets before being ferried the short distance to the Stadium of Light on double-decker buses, under police escort – nothing says a northern football derby more than that.

Tempers ran high at points in the first Tyne-Wear derby for eight years


Inside the ground, they had the best seats in the house, however, having been given the whole of the South Stand, much to the annoyance of home season ticket holders displaced to accommodate their arch-enemy, days after someone thought it a good idea to adorn the Black Cat Sports Bar inside the stadium with Newcastle colours and anti-Peter Reid messaging.

The red-carpet service spilled out on the pitch as, despite the febrile atmosphere, Newcastle cruised through the first half under no pressure at all.

Sean Longstaff went close on three separate occasions, Alexander Isak could easily have won a penalty after appearing to be bundled over in the box, with Miguel Almiron going close with an acrobatic effort.

The warm hospitality reached new heights for the Newcastle opener, however, as Dan Ballard arrowed Joelinton’s cross into his own net in the 35th minute.

Still in at 1-0, Sunderland needed to come out all guns blazing, like their supporters did, for the second half, but instead, they assumed their maitre d’ duties from the off, as Pierre Ekwah criminally gave the ball away on the edge of his own penalty area, Almiron stepped in, fed Isak who put the game to bed to spark wild scenes of celebration in the away end.

Newcastle striker Alexander Isak scored twice on derby day


Sunderland did finally start to commit some bodies forward, forcing Martin Dubravka into two fine saves, but Ballard’s parting gift was to haul Anthony Gordon down to earn Newcastle a late penalty, Isak converting from the spot to put the icing on the most perfectly baked cake.

With the rot stopped, Newcastle now have that rare commodity in the modern-day Premier League – time to regroup, get more players back from injury and allow Howe to get his squad into the training ground to correct areas they have fallen behind in.

That is where Howe is at his best – working on a game plan over time to prepare his team in the best possible way for what is to come. In their rotten run, Newcastle have looked shorn of ideas and fight but, more pertinently, energy. For a long time, Howe effectively had to field the same starting XI, with a player who was just nine years old the last time Newcastle and Sunderland faced off in the side week-in, week-out.

Lewis Miley is now able to be given some well-earned rest, with other players on the way back to relieve other tired legs. With more options available to him and a huge potential banana skin across town safely navigated, the top four, or even higher should victories over Manchester City and Aston Villa follow before the month is out, can once again come into view.


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