It was probably just as well that Alan Shearer settled the score with local honour even at St James' Park on Saturday. You would not get Peter Reid to see it that way. But, then, the Sunderland manager did have the dug out for protection.
The Tyne-Wear derby has long been deeply entrenched local warfare; the first this century and the first this decade both ended in riots. The designation of "enemy" territory as no-go areas this season duly averted the threat of mass battle at Roker last September and at St James' on Saturday. But the away fan ban has introduced a sinister new twist to the saga of antipathy between the North-east neighbours.
That it has merely succeeded in polarising the hate was evident at Sunderland when the brave but unwise members of the Toon Army who had found a way behind red-and-white lines stood out as they instinctively failed to rise in celebration of Martin Scott's successful penalty kick. The ugly scenes which followed that night were mirrored at St James' Park on Saturday when Michael Gray's right-foot shot hit the back of Shaka Hislop's net.
Intruders who revealed their true colours attracted unseemly attention from those around them. Pockets of mayhem erupted around the ground and witch hunts would have doubtless persisted to the final whistle and beyond had Shearer not pounced to save a point for Newcastle.
Kenny Dalglish, having seen the team of great pretenders he inherited from Kevin Keegan struggle to make an impression against a Sunderland team fighting for Premiership life, was grateful that Shearer emerged from his latest convalescence with his predatory instinct intact.
Yet it was clear the derby day passions that Newcastle's manager experienced in Glasgow and Liverpool had not been stirred by his first taste of the Tyne and Wear version. "It's a bit strange when there's no visiting fans," Dalglish confessed.
To a true blue who still travelled to Old Firm engagements on a Rangers supporters' club bus when he first joined the staff at Celtic Park, it must have been a bewildering occasion. Reid, too, must have pined for the sanity of those Merseyside meetings in which he and Dalglish have been cheered and jeered by Reds and Evertonians stood peaceably side by side.
Reid's Scouse wit did much to sweeten the bitter aftertaste at St James'. Asked if he was disappointed that his players had granted Shearer a point- blank chance, he said: "I was disappointed they got a cross in. I was disappointed we got done on the back stick. And I was disappointed he stuck it in the net... Apart from that I was as happy as effing Larry."
On Saturday's evidence, Reid and his players will be extending a Premiership welcome to Dalglish and his team at the new Wearmouth Stadium next season. Is it really expecting too much that the Toon Army should be welcome too?
Goals: Gray (31) 0-1; Shearer (77) 1-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Watson, Elliott; Gillespie, Batty, Lee (Clark, 29), Ginola; Shearer, Ferdinand (Asprilla, 45). Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Beresford, Srnicek (gk).
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Perez; Hall, Howey, Ord, Kubicki; Johnston (Kelly, 61), Ball, Bracewell, Gray (Bridges, 66); Waddle; Stewart (Quinn, 82). Substitutes not used: Eriksson, Woods (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).
Booking: Sunderland Howey.
Man of the match: Waddle. Attendance: 36,582.Reuse content