Newcastle 0 Sunderland 1
Newcastle United are supposed to be counter-attacking specialists but they ended up being hoist by their own petard as a brilliant late Sunderland break resulted in Adam Johnson ruining Alan Pardew's Christmas.
Johnson’s 90th-minute winning goal mean his side have now won their last four games with Newcastle, three on Tyneside. Even worse, for Pardew, he has now lost all of his five meeting with Gus Poyet’s teams, succumbing three times to the Uruguayan in north east derbies and twice when Newcastle lost FA Cup ties against Brighton.
Poyet infliction of his latest embarrassment on his Newcastle counterpart was partly thanks to a man of the match performance from Sebastian Larsson whose intelligence in midfield played a big part in wrecking Pardew's gameplan.
Not that the afternoon began too well for the Wearsiders. Poyet suffered an early setback when Anthony Réveillère aggravated a calf injury in the warm up. Sunderland's only fit left back sustained the problem against West Ham last weekend but hopes he could somehow get through the derby were swiftly scotched, leaving John O'Shea to relocate to the left and Sebastian Coates to step in at centre half.
Coates quickly found himself in the eye of an attacking storm as Newcastle began very much on the front foot. Poyet prides himself on his teams playing passing football but Sunderland could barely get out of their own half, let alone establish any sort of fluency or rhythm.
On a rare occasion when they broke, Steven Fletcher endured the agony of a sneaky knee in the lower back from Fabricio Coloccini as he challenged the home captain for a dropping ball. A little lucky not to be sent off, Coloccini was booked, leaving Poyet incandescent on the touchline, his anger exacerbated by the fact that Fletcher has a history of weakness in that precise area of his back.
The Sunderland manager's mood was hardly improved when Cheik Tioté escaped unpunished after making five clumsy fouls. The Ivorian finally went into the book at the sixth attempt after tangling with Connor Wickham.
By then Sunderland were not only beginning to establish a foothold in the game but creating the better chances. Despite much initial sound and fury from Pardew's players they had only really conjured two clearcut openings. First Paul Dummett curled a close range free kick over the bar in the wake of Coates's early, yellow-carded, foul on Ayoze Pérez and then the otherwise impressive Moussa Sissoko shot straight at Costel Pantilimon following a slick one-two with Sammy Ameobi.
Fletcher went a little closer when he connected with Larsson's first-time through pass with a volley which brushed the top of the bar. With a Wickham shot subsequently being touched onto a post by Jak Alnwick and a header from the same player later bringing the best out in Pardew's third choice goalkeeper, Sunderland were morphing into the better team.
Although Pérez curled a shot wide at the end of a characteristically rapid counter-attack, Lee Cattermole had – significantly – started subduing Sissoko. Meanwhile Larsson was beginning to find his passing range in midfield while, drifting in from his left-sided station, Wickham was proving quite a handful.
The England under-21 striker became the first-half’s fifth booking when he clattered Alnwick in the shoulder but, happily, the mood in the stands was proving slightly more civilised.
When the stadium's electronic clock clicked onto 17 minutes, away fans joined the home supporters' now traditional minute's applause in tribute John Alder and Liam Sweeney who had been on their way to New Zealand to cheer Pardew's players on during a summer tour when flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Sunderland supporters raised £33,000 towards fund raising initiatives in memory of Alder and Sweeney and, in the 33rd minute, their rivals thanked them courtesy of another round of clapping. Just in case anybody thought things were becoming too friendly it was immediately followed by a robust reminder that not everything had changed. “We hate Sunderland,” came the defiant chant but, somehow, it lacked the venom of previous years.
No one could doubt Steven Taylor’s desire to win and, as Fletcher rose at the far post, ready to head a Wickham delivery beyond Alnwick, the centre half flew to the rescue placing his own head in the way. The ball was duly cleared but Taylor ended up slamming into the upright, with an eye socket seeming to have take the brunt of the blow. For a few moments there was real concern on Pardew’s bench but then the stretcher was waved away and the defender sped down the tunnel to have a bleeding wound stitched.
Before he returned Sunderland very nearly capitalised on their temporary numerical advantage only for Jordi Gómez to miss an absolute sitter, the Spaniard shooting wide with the goal at his mercy.
That miss served to galvanise Newcastle and, suddenly, Pantilimon was tipping a Pérez shot over the bar. With Cattermole needing to watch his step after being booked for a challenge on Pérez, Sissoko had begun to reassert himself. Clearly fearing Cattermole might ended up seeing red, Poyet withdrew him, sending Liam Bridcutt on, though Cattermole was later spotted icing his knee on the bench.
The introduction of young Adam Armstrong – one of six Geordies to feature for Newcastle – looked to have helped turn things Pardew's way. Ultimately this was not to be his day but all fabulous movement and deft touches, Armstrong appears an excellent prospect.
Papiss Cissé was also thrown on, but the Newcastle striker had barely touched the ball before Johnson, on his preferred left foot, missed a glorious chance, shooting wide after being intelligently put through by Wickham
Although Sissoko saw a venomous shot tipped over the bar, it merely proved the cue for that decisive break. Initiated by Johnson inside his own half it was helped by Fletcher’s advance and Will Buckley’s lay off ahead of Johnson’s finishing touch.