O'Neill saves face as Coloccini's late exit sinks depleted Magpies

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The Independent Online

Much will be made of the dismissal of Cheick Tioté so early in a derby that never matched its build-up. His wild lunge was reckless and dangerous, and the injury to Steven Fletcher could have been more severe. Thus referee Martin Atkinson's call was correct, preventing Newcastle from playing the expansive game which had been too much for their hosts before the sending off.

Tioté's removal was not, however, why Sunderland scrambled a point. It was because the game's outstanding player left the field with cramp five minutes beforethe equalising goal was scored.

Fabricio Coloccini had played 61 minutes of football in the previous seven weeks, but yesterday he was untouchable. He dominated Fletcher to the point where the Scot - the only Sunderland player to score in the Premier League this season - was barely relevant.

Alan Pardew was gushing in his praise afterwards, and rightly so - there was a even comparison to Bobby Moore. From Tioté's dismissal until his departure, , Sunderland Tim Krul could not muster a single shot.

Annoyed by Steven Taylor's pre-match assertion that no Sunderland player would make Newcastle's starting XI, collectively they failed to prove him wrong . But Sunderland's supporters took hatred to a new level, singing "We wish you were dead," throughout the game. Pardew looked stunned when he was told of the chant's words, and O'Neill spoke of his disappointment. It did not paint this game in a good light, but then neither did the barriers erected to keep supporters apart.

Newcastle had a corner in the first minute and a goal in the third. Danny Rose's weak pass on the Sunderland left ceded possession, and from there, Hatem Ben Arfa strode down the right, sliding his pass forward to Demba Ba. The angle was tight but the shot still demanded a save from Mignolet, the ball falling into the path of Yohan Cabaye, who swept a shot into the bottom corner. It deflated home players and home fans.

But then Tioté was sent off. It did not matter that he had been fouled by Colback and that Atkinson had given the free-kick; his foot was high and caught Fletcher. But Perch and Cabaye worked manfully at the heart of the Newcastle midfield, and Sunderland could not full use of the extra man, their approach-play laboured and predictable .

Once Coloccini departed, Newcastle became nervous, defending deep, and Sunderland summoned a final burst of energy. When Seb Larsson flung over a late free-kick, John O'Shea won a header in Coloccini's absence, and the ball ricocheted into the Newcastle goal off Ba's head. O'Neill's overwhelming emotion was relief. Justifiably so.

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