Magpie Humiliation As Scourge Masterminds Mackem Win
It's often said by football fans the world over that they wouldn't care if they lost every other game of the season, providing their beat their bitterest derby rivals.
Almost three months into the season, and it's something Sunderland supporters can still look upon with a mixture of dread and ecstasy. After a dramatic and absorbing - if short of quality - Wear-Tyne derby at a raucous Stadium of Light, the arrival of Gus Poyet in the home dug-out for the first time could mean the last his opposite number, Alan Pardew, has in the away section.
It's been an awful, dreadful start of the season for Sunderland. Three managers - regular defeats punctuated by occasional draws and rarer victories - and a media storm over political affiliations have left the club deflated, shorn of confidence, and not so much fearing as fully expecting relegation as a fait accompli.
The one shining light until today had been the Black Cats remarkable 3-0 triumph at St. James' Park back in April, Di Canio's dirty knees et al. If ever there was a time for Newcastle United to kill off their old enemy, to push their humiliation to unbearable levels, the Stadium of Light just as British Summer Time turned to grim GMT was it..
Since that heady Sunday six months ago, Sunderland had amassed just one more league win since then, and just a solitary point in 2013-14. Fourteen players had come into the Stadium of Light in the summer. Only, at best, a couple of them could be described as improving the squad. In the meantime, Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon had left. The loss of that duo have had far more reaching implications than the players brought in.
If Sunderland have been in a free fall, Newcastle themselves can hardly have said to have been cruising along fulfilling their potential. Flirting with relegation themselves in 2012-13, the Magpies were looking to recapture their form of a couple of seasons ago, when they secured a Europa League place.
It was that Europa League run which Alan Pardew blamed for that day of desolation at home earlier this year. Playing away, but up against possibly the worst top flight team in recent history, there could be no excuse this time.
Derby matches, however, have no rhyme or reason. Just prior to kick-off, the Gods - a few days before the Pope had been photographed displaying a Sunderland shirt at the Vatican - smiled on the Stadium of Light. Not only had latest incumbent into the Wearside hot seat, Poyet, chosen this to be his inaugural home game, Newcastle were without lynch pin defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor amongst others.
As another 45,000-plus crowd roared passion, emotion and urgency into the ear deafening start, Sunderland exploited Newcastle's defensive jitters almost immediately. Adam Johnson, have flattered to deceive in his Black Cat career to date, wrong footed the visitors by playing a short corner to Seb Larrson on the right.
The return pass was equally quick and Johnson dinked a cross inside the area, where Steven Fletcher was waiting at the far post to head home. Delirium from the massed ranks of Sunderland supporters, starved of anything remotely approaching a good time for six months, and any tangible success for over 40 years.
It was this colossal roar that kept Sunderland moving forward, and the Black Cats almost doubled their first-half lead when a Fletcher shot was only parried by Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal. Local lad Phil Drummett then hesitated in clearing the loose ball, almost allowing home striker Jozy Altidore to nip in.
Pardew's hair may well have been going from silver to white by this time. Previous Toon managers have been sacked on the strength of just one derby defeat and here he was - on the precipice of leading the Magpies to their second league reverse to Sunderland in a row - a feat not achieved by their rivals for 46 years.
Newcastle had been restricted to long range efforts in the first 45 minutes, despite plenty of possession and territory, and the ex-Charlton Athletic and West Ham United manager had the experience and know-how to change things around. This he did with a change in formation, reverting to 4-4-2 to add more cutting edge to their forays forward.
Within 12 minutes of the restart the change had paid off. Hatem Ben Arfa - from the left hand edge of the area - hit a low shot, and Matthieu Debuchy timed his run to perfection at the far edge of the six yard box, which left him with a simple tap-in after being completely unmarked. The visitors dugout showed fists being clenched and air being punched in relief. Surely the win would now come.
As Newcastle piled forward, Poyet remained calm. His Sunderland side folded like a pack of cards in his first game at Swansea City last week after conceding a second half goal, and changes had already been made. Players who had been part of the derby matches the previous season, who knew how to win these games, had been brought back. The unknown quantities waited on the subs bench.
As Yohan Cabaye had a curling shot go narrowly wide, and supporters of both sides increasingly vocal in both their encouragement and anxiety, Poyet rolled the dice. On came ex-Liverpool man Fabio Borini for Johnson, Ki for Lee Cattermole, and Ondrej Celustka for Phil Bardsley.
While this was going on, Newcastle continued to press for the win, and Davide Santon almost put the Magpies ahead for the first time on 75 minutes with a shot from the edge of the Sunderland area that went centimetres wide. A Magpies sub of their own, Shola Ameobi for the disappointing Loric Remy, had an effort from around 20 yards that whistled past the left hand post. Ben Arfa also had a shot blocked as time ticked away for that much needed away win.
Then, as time ticked away, so did karma for the Magpies. Far out on the Sunderland right, and inside their own half, the hosts won a free kick that looked somewhat soft after a Cheick Tiote challenge on Fletcher. With the referee having his back to play, the Scot cannily moved the ball, still in motion when he passed the ball cross-field.
Newcastle defenders were tracking back slowly when the ball was played to Altidore on the edge of the visitors penalty area. Still oblivious to the danger - Borini's run was not picked up - and from Altidore's lay-off, struck a superb, viciously outswinging shot. Krul just got fingertips to it but couldn't prevent it hitting the right hand roof of the net.
The Stadium of Light erupted as the noise of over 40,000 mad mackems reverberated around the ground and beyond. Under the cosh for long spells of the second half they may have been, Sunderland's defence held firm superbly, and roared on by tens of thousands of human foghorns, made their own luck.
As for Newcastle, and Pardew in particular, the game might just be up. In perhaps the first salvo to try to save his job, Pardew moaned afterwards, "I thought we were the better team. We just switched off and he has hit it true. We are really disappointed. I'm just disappointed for everyone at Newcastle."
True, the visitors enjoyed slightly more possession and territory, and also had twice as many shots as their beleaguered hosts. There were, however no shots hitting the post or defenders on the line for this win. Sunderland simply applied themselves to the task, defended well, and took their chances.
Perhaps Newcastle should have seen this coming. Late, great Magpies boss Sir Bobby Robson dubbed Poyet "The Scourge of Newcastle United" after his knack of scoring and winning every time he played them. It's something that has somehow continued in the most unlikely of circumstances, with Sunderland quadrupling their points total (Amazingly, now being within just five points of safety).
It's a theme Poyet pondered on afterwards, also recalling his two previous victories over the Tynesiders as Brighton manager, "They're going to hate me even more now. I don't know how or why it happens, there are no explanations."
Maybe there is. It's derby day. And the one thing we know is that anything can happen.
Even a Sunderland victory.
Sunderland 2, Newcastle United 1