Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet admitted he was about to take derby hero Adam Johnson off minutes before he struck the goal which secured a fourth successive victory over Newcastle.
The winger converted substitute Will Buckley’s lay-off to score the only goal of the game at St James’ Park and snatch a 1-0 win with seconds of normal time remaining.
However, Poyet, who maintained his 100 per cent derby record with the Black Cats, which now extends to three games, later revealed Johnson was about to be replaced by Buckley when he changed his mind and withdrew Connor Wickham instead.
The Uruguayan said: “I have to be honest, I was taking Adam Johnson off and for some reason, I didn’t. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know, and luckily enough Jonno scored the winning goal, which is fantastic for us.”
Asked what had prompted his 81st-minute change of heart, Poyet added: “It was the previous action to when the referee was probably stopping to change.
“Adam Johnson went in behind, checked back, missed the chance. I don’t know if you remember, when he checked back on Coloccini and with the left foot, missed the goal?
“What we were looking for was to go in behind, that was Buckley coming on, and Jonno did it, so I said, ‘No, no, no, change Connor, number 10’.
“Decisions. You can call it luck or whatever, but we haven’t had too much this year so if it is luck, I’ll take it for once. It’s not bad.”
Johnson’s intervention came as Newcastle, looking to avoid a fourth derby defeat on the trot for the first time in their history, were making a final big push in a fiercely-fought contest when Johnson struck.
Up until that point, Sunderland had enjoyed the better of the game, but had squandered a series of gilt-edged chances and had to rely on goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to keep out goal-bound efforts from Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko.
But as the clock ticked down, Johnson, who had scored at St James' in 3-0 victories in the previous two seasons, held off Sissoko inside his own half before heading upfield to feed striker Steven Fletcher and then making his way into the penalty area to dispatch Buckley's lay-off.
Poyet said: “It’s great, it’s incredible. When you are on the right side, the good side, you are going to remember it all your life, so it’s a special moment for us, a special moment for the club.
“Records, continuing to win games, they are always there for someone to break. We were able to continue this winning run against Newcastle, which is great for us, without forgetting that the three points are the main thing. But it makes it a very special Christmas for us.”
Opposite number Alan Pardew finished the game with three strikers – Perez, Papiss Cisse and Adam Armstrong – and attacking midfielder Remy Cabella on the pitch, but was still unable to force the breakthrough before disaster struck at the death.
Pardew, whose decision was described as “very brave” by Poyet, said: “This club wants to see goals. I am never going to be the manager of this football team and accept a draw at home as a positive result regardless of who it is against.
“But we should still have the discipline in the team, regardless of how many offensive players we have on, to do the job. It wasn’t so much the offensive players, it was our defenders, really, who over-committed.
“But I am not here to criticise my team. They gave everything today, they tried to win it and if we are ever going to lose a game, then we would lose it in that manner, if I am honest, trying to push for a win.”
Pardew, who was under pressure from his own club’s fans earlier in the season, now has to bear the burden of an unwelcome derby record, and it is one which is hard to take.
He said: “It’s a good day for Gus and not for us.”