Given in Toon for a title challenge
Sunderland 0 Newcastle 1:Shay Given once played for Sunderland. When he did, on loan from Blackburn Rovers seven seasons ago, he kept 12 clean sheets in 17 games. They know all about Shay Given in Sunderland then.
Consequently, when the man from Donegal took off with six minutes left of a pulsating north-east derby to try to reach a superb Kevin Phillips shot that was bound for the top corner and bound to give Sunderland a point, the home fans must have feared the worst despite hoping for the best. Pessimism comes easily to Wearsiders and they were right again.
Given's spring was phenomenal, Phillips's effort was tipped aside, and Newcastle United had their first win at their neighbours' ground for six years. Given's save was the difference between three points and one, the difference between maintaining a challenge and fading from one.
Bobby Robson's spring following his first victory over Sunderland since succeeding Ruud Gullit was pretty impressive too. This carried a particular resonance for a man from Co Durham. Robson has managed Barcelona when they defeated Real Madrid and, as he said: "That's two countries, Catalonia v Spain; this is local."
But the 69-year-old was so chuffed he said he might venture down to Newcastle's Quayside last night - "with Bellamy and Dyer" - a happy reference to an unhappy recent incident featuring those players.
But the serious business is that Newcastle are second again, two points adrift of Manchester United with a game in hand. Next up are Arsenal, at home on Saturday; after that it is a trip to Anfield.
One of Newcastle's several pluses from yesterday was that the quartet of players on four yellow cards avoided picking up a booking. They can all play in both those games. Three of the four - Gary Speed, Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer - were excellent yesterday, especially in a vibrant second half. The fourth, Clarence Acuna, was on the bench, making way for the £5 million Jermaine Jenas six days after Jenas turned 19.
Peter Reid has one win in nine now, but Sunderland worked hard to overcome their declining confidence and Given made sharp saves from Phillips and Kevin Kilbane at he end of the first period.
Newcastle had a "goal" from Bellamy disallowed controversially earlier, but it was not until the restart that United displayed the sense of urgency that brought them the win. Thomas Sorensen produced a goalline block from Nikos Dabizas, who then hit the crossbar with a volley on the turn.
The visitors' increased adventure was then illustrated by the fact that it was the right back, Aaron Hughes, who was upended by Patrick Mboma for United's goal. Mboma, a Cameroonian on loan from Parma, replaced Niall Quinn at the interval, but his challenge on Hughes was late, if enthusiastic.
Laurent Robert swung in the free-kick, Shearer flicked a head at it and in the confusion Dabizas was left unmarked to nod in from five yards.
Kilbane made Given dive again with a low drive, and then came Given's brilliance to deny Phillips. Even in the eye of the moment, though, Given said his concentration was on the bigger picture.
"All I was thinking of was closing in on Man United," Given said. "They were five points clear of us and that's all that was on my mind. There are still teams at the top with better squads than ours but the closer we get to the end of the season the more we believe in ourselves."
Others might need to join them.
SUNDERLAND: Sorensen, Haas, Gray, Bjorklund, Craddock, McAteer, Schwarz (Butler 70), Reyna, Kilbane, Quinn (Mboma 46), Phillips. Subs Not Used: Macho, Williams, McCartney. Booked: McAteer, Mboma, Kilbane.
NEWCASTLE: Given, Hughes, Distin, Dabizas, O'Brien, Solano, Speed, Robert (Ameobi 90), Jenas, Shearer, Bellamy. Subs Not Used: Elliott, Acuna, Harper, Lua-Lua. Booked: Bellamy. Goals: Dabizas 64.
Referee: G Barber (Tring).