Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United welcomed Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland to St.James’ Park on Sunday afternoon. The much anticipated fixture saw the two sides clash in the Tyne-Wear derby and both sets of supporters would be hoping that their teams could pick up three vital points in their respective battles against relegation. Sunderland had won their previous six clashes versus The Magpies, but under Benitez’s regime, the latter were hoping to halt that dismal run.
Following arguably the most important meeting between the fierce rivals in many a year getting underway, the adrenaline fuelled players scrapped for the bragging rights. The Black Cats enjoyed the brighter start as Jermain Defoe latched onto a Fabio Borini knock down to strike over the bar on the turn after just 3 minutes. Newcastle then began to look lively and they created their first opportunity of the afternoon following some direct play from Andros Townsend. The winger marauded into a dangerous position to tee up Aleksandar Mitrovic but the striker couldn’t keep his effort down under pressure.
Rob Elliott was called into action in the home goal for the first time soon after as a Sunderland corner was met by a powerful Jack Rodwell header. The Newcastle stopper was up quickly, however, to deny him with an instinctive fingertip save. A relentless pace continued to develop and another Townsend delivery caused havoc before Jonjo Shelvey eventually fired high and wide with 14 minutes on the clock.
The best chance of the half then fell to the visitors in the 19th minute as Defoe uncharacteristally fired wide from 12 yards after creating space for a shot. Newcastle then had another shot on goal seconds later but Vito Mannone did enough to thwart Townsend who looked to be in a very adventurous mood. Newcastle then had a chance themselves on the half hour mark as Shelvey smashed a free kick just past the post after Younes Kaboul chopped down Ayoze Perez on the edge of the box.
In regards to the intensity of proceedings and the regularity of chances, they both slowed down in the latter stages of the first period. A few audacious attempts were had by both sides but neither goalkeeper was tested. Sunderland did produce the final surge though, and they took the lead as a result on 44 minutes. Borini’s powerful drive was initially parried into the air by Elliott but Newcastle failed to clear and Defoe notched his 12th Premier League goal of the season with a neat volley into the far corner.
With Newcastle trailing at the break, the home supporters would have been desperate for their side to claw their way back into the match. They were inches away from levelling the scores early on in the second period as a Townsend corner caused panic in the Sunderland area. It was the deep delivery that found Perez and his clip towards goal was hooked desperately off the line by Yann M’Vila who spared Mannone’s blushes after the keeper was left stranded.
Another opportunity opened up in favour of the home team on 52 minutes as Moussa Sissoko did excellently well to keep the ball in play. The midfielder then cut inside before playing a cross into Mitrovic’s path but his header was saved comfortably by the Sunderland keeper. Despite Newcastle’s early signs of revival, The Black Cats almost extended their lead with 58 minutes played but Elliott pulled out a magnificent reaction save to deny Patrick van Aanholt.
Newcastle continued to have the lion’s share of possession but Sunderland’s defence were halting any danger competently after dropping into a deeper position. The home side were restricted to long range efforts and the next clear sight of goal didn’t come until 71 minutes as Perez sliced harmlessly wide. Shelvey did then fire a tame effort on goal during the next move but it was simple for Mannone to gather and the pressure was relieved from the away defence.
Benitez’s decision to bring on Papiss Cisse after a lengthy spell out injured on 75 minutes was well received by The Toon Army and it demonstrated that Newcastle were not finished just yet. With added firepower now in their forward line, St James’ park erupted into celebration on 83 minutes as Georginio Wijnaldum did brilliantly well to clip a cross towards the back post. Mitrovic then won his tussle with DeAndre Yedlin to head emphatically into the far corner to the scores and silence the travelling fans.
Following their equaliser, the hosts searched for a winning goal and they were spurred on by the ever impressive Toon Army. Sunderland’s back line resolutely cleared any potential danger, however, and the fierce contest was concluded by the referee’s whistle soon after to ensure both teams took a share of the spoils.
The goal scored by Defoe looked likely to secure a win that would have taken Sunderland out of the bottom three, but Mitrovic’s leveller boosted Newcastle’s survival chances as they now only sit one win away from Norwich City in 17th place. With both outfits having played a game less than their relegation rivals, Benitez and Allardyce will be confident that their respective squads can beat the drop.
Undoubtedly, both sets of supporters would have been dreaming of a derby day win, but I think they’ll be delighted that they didn’t lose in what was a crucial fixture at the bottom of the Premier League. Newcastle now face a relegation six-pointer in their next outing as they travel to Carrow Road, whilst Sunderland welcome West Bromwich Albion to The Stadium Of Light.
A nerve-wracking remainder of the season awaits now and I’m sure both managers will take positives from this game. I have no doubt that Sunderland will be feeling extremely disappointed after letting their lead slip, but I think they have reason to be optimistic. Likewise with Newcastle, they have looked more positive under Benitez and I think they could stay up despite odds being stacked against them.
It’s certainly an interesting Premier League season.