Prior to Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off, Steven Taylor and Danny Simpson attempted to rile Sunderland’s players with their derogatory observations about the opposition’s footballing abilities. However, instead of inspiring the opposition to shatter our defender’s illusions these comments merely incited some sections of the home crowd to utter some repulsive chants about our players. In the interests of fairness I should also mention that there have also been some reports of disparaging remarks about Lee Cattermole from the Newcastle fans, they were not as obscene as the offensive singing of the Sunderland fans, which even their manager could not condone. These chants belied the pre-match pleas of both managers to keep a cool head and should be investigated by the relevant authorities to avoid an explosive reaction at the return match at St James’ Park.

On the pitch Newcastle sought to assert their dominance over their neighbours from the start and were rewarded with an early goal in a move which saw Danny Rose loose possession of the ball in a dangerous area, and enabled Hatem Ben Arfa to drive into the Sunderland defence. Ben Arfa provided a perfect pass to Demba Ba whose shot could only be parried by Simon Mignolet into the path of Yohan Cabaye who coolly shot passed the outstretched foot of John O’Shea into the corner of the Sunderland net. This was the perfect start to the derby for Newcastle fans who were getting used to their new seats way up in the gods of the North Stand. This move was presumably designed to prevent further instances of crowd violence, but it did not dampen the away fans’ jubilation at the sight of this early goal.

Sunderland had an opportunity to restore parity after 15 minutes when Ben Arfa conceded a foul against Danny Rose, but Sebastian Larsson could only direct his free kick into the grateful arms of Tim Krul. However, Sunderland were granted the chance to gain the upper hand when Cheick Tiote was sent off in the 25th minute for a rash tackle on Steven Fletcher. Fletcher’s screams of agony did not help the Newcastle midfielder’s cause, but as the striker subsequently resumed playing maybe he should have been warned about feigning injury. In the aftermath of the sending off Shola Ameobi was shown a yellow card for dissent whilst Jack Colback, who had conceded a foul prior to Tiote’s challenge escaped any further punishment. Indeed the referee seemed intent on booking Newcastle players issuing four yellows in addition to Tiote’s red, whilst the opposition did not receive any cards despite making numerous fouls. This imbalance should not be tolerated in the high stakes of any Premier League game let alone a local derby.

After the sending off Sunderland failed to assert their numerical dominance as Adam Johnson was well shackled on the wing and their star player of last season, Stephane Sessegnon, was a shadow of his former self. Sunderland’s ineffectiveness at attacking was in stark contrast to Newcastle’s defensive dominance as the returning Coloccini showed how much we missed him during his recent injury lay off. He cleared every ball that Sunderland launched into the Newcastle half and was quick to mop up the danger when Sunderland attempted to play through the middle of our defence.
At the other end Demba Ba’s bicycle kick flew over the bar and Yohan Cabaye had a few efforts at goal but Newcastle were unable to gain a two goal cushion before the break. However, even though Newcastle replaced Shola Ameobi for the more defensive minded James Perch to shore up the midfield after the departure of Tiote it was Newcastle who looked the more likely to score.
After the break we awaited an onslaught by Sunderland after an inspiring team talk by Martin O’Neil. However, it was not to be. Despite their dominance in terms of midfield possession they failed to force Tim Krul into any meaningful saves, as a combination of Williamson and Coloccini locked out the Sunderland attack. Coloccini’s brilliance deservedly earned him man of the match and his forced withdrawal after suffering from cramp was unfortunate. Prior to his departure he was instrumental in the Newcastle defence, blocking a shot from Carlos Cuellar and rendering Steven Fletcher ineffectual. However, after his departure Newcastle were given a warning that Coloccini’s presence would be missed as Saha contrived to shoot into the side netting from close range. This warning was not heeded, however and Mike Williamson who had enjoyed one of his better games decided to concede a foul in the middle of Newcastle’s half. This fateful decision allowed Larsson to launch a looping free-kick into the area which was headed goal-wards by John O’Shea, and diverted into the net by Demba Ba’s face with Tim Krul stranded. This unlucky sequence of events was the culmination of Sunderland’s success however as their only other real chance was squandered by James McClean who shot wide from just outside the area. Newcastle had a couple of opportunities to regain the lead as Yohan Cabaye was able to aim a few free-kicks and a corner into the Sunderland area despite being pelted with screwed up pieces of paper but these efforts were soaked up by the Sunderland defence. The final whistle gave Newcastle a creditable draw but Sunderland were lucky to escape with a point.

This match highlighted Newcastle’s defensive qualities which were noticeably absent during their capitulation against Manchester United. It is no coincidence that this upturn in their defensive performance coincided with the return of Danny Simpson and Fabricio Coloccini and we must hope that they remain fit for the remainder of the season. It would also be great news if Simpson finally signed a contract extension as his performances at the back, whilst rarely highlighted are invaluable to Newcastle United.

Our next test is a Europa Cup tie against Club Brugge, where our younger players will probably be given another opportunity to shine, before we endure the visit of West Brom who have seen a vast turnaround in their fortunes with the appointment of Steve Clarke and a couple of inspired signings. Our next Premier League encounter will be a difficult test and it is a shame that we will be without our midfield enforcer Tiote, who must learn to curb his enthusiasm.

By Rachel Horne