So much hatred, so much bile, so much police preparation, and yet ultimately it was all decided by one player leaving the pitch before he had planned.
Much will be made of the dismissal of Cheick Tioté so early in a derby that never matched its build up. The player himself deserves a significant apportionment of blame for that. His wild lunge, when barely a quarter of the contest had passed, was reckless, dangerous and the injury to Steven Fletcher could have been more severe. There was surprise at the red card but not fury, as his manager Alan Pardew, in his acceptance afterwards, was testimony to. Referee Martin Atkinson at times proved inconsistent for such a tribal collision, but the call was correct and it dictated that Newcastle could not play the expansive game which, on yesterday's showing, would have been too much for their hosts. It certainly had been before he went off.
Tioté's removal was not, however, why Sunderland scrambled a fortuitous point. It was because a player who had stood out, left the field with cramp five minutes before it was scored.
Fabricio Coloccini had played 61 minutes of football in the previous seven weeks before he led his side out yesterday. That made what followed even more remarkable. Coloccini was untouchable. He dominated Fletcher to the point where the Scot, who has been the only Sunderland player to score in the Premier League this season, was barely relevant.
Coloccini marshalled and outmanoeuvred everything the numerically superior Sunderland could muster. Pardew was gushing in his praise afterwards for his captain, and with good reason. There was a comparison to Bobby Moore. Coloccini was that good.
From the 25th minute, when Tioté was dismissed, to the 80th minute, when Newcastle's captain was finally forced to leave the field as both legs seized up, Sunderland did not directly test goalkeeper Tim Krul, who was also returning after a period of inactivity (he had missed seven games with an elbow injury), with a shot.
Instead, there was only a brief intake of breath from the travelling Newcastle support, housed in the upper tier of the North Stand for the first time, when Krul fumbled a cross from James McClean in front of them. Even then the Newcastle keeper collected at the second attempt, and he did so with support from his defenders.
The decision to partner Coloccini with Mike Williamson had raised eyebrows, but the latter too was colossal at the heart of the Newcastle defence. There were key elements to this game and they boiled down to the quality Pardew had spoken of beforehand, and the issue that Steven Taylor had screamed in Saturday's papers.
Martin O'Neill admitted afterwards that his players were annoyed when they read they would not make the Newcastle starting XI, (nor did Taylor as it turned out), but there was a collective failure to respond to the assertion when the greatest opportunity, the match itself, was presented to them. If Taylor's crass argument was meant to focus on the gap in ability between the two sides, then yesterday's game suggested he was ultimately correct. He will have a long time to reflect on whether his timing was right, or whether he should have spoken about such an inflammable topic.
However, Sunderland's supporters, understandably outraged, took hatred to a new level with the song that rang around the Stadium of Light throughout the game. "We wish you were dead," they repeatedly shouted. Pardew looked stunned when he was told of the chant's words. O'Neill spoke of his disappointment. It did not paint this game in a good light, but then neither did the barriers of steel that had been erected sporadically around the ground to keep supporters apart.
Sunderland's infield resistance proved far less secure. Newcastle had a corner in the first minute and a goal in the third. The triumvirate involved in it played at a higher level throughout the afternoon. Danny Rose's weak pass on the Sunderland left started the opportunity and from there Hatem Ben Arfa strode down the right, slid his pass forward to Demba Ba. The angle was tight but the shot still required a save with his feet from Simon Mignolet. The ball fell into the path of Yohan Cabaye, and retaining his composure, the France international swept his shot into the bottom corner of the Sunderland goal. Newcastle had the start Pardew had craved. It deflated home players and home fans. In the 21st minute Cabaye, growing in confidence, shot for goal from 30 yards from a free-kick. Mignolet scrambled it over the crossbar.
But then Tioté was sent off in the 25th minute. It did not matter that he had been fouled by Jack Colback as he went for the ball, and that Atkinson had given the free-kick, his kick, with the game still to stop, was wild and it caught Fletcher. The red card changed the whole context. Shola Ameobi, who had been preferred to Papiss Cissé, was taken off in the 39th minute. James Perch and Cabaye worked manfully at the heart of the Newcastle midfield, and Sunderland, as their manager admitted afterwards, never made full use of the extra man, their approach play predictable and the end product laboured.
Pardew claimed it would have been one of the greatest derby victories ever if his side had held on. That was well on its way to happening until Coloccini went down and then, two minutes later, could no longer carry on. There is too much irony that Newcastle were significantly weaker through his absence, and the introduction of his replacement, in the shape of Taylor.
Newcastle became nervous, defending deep, Sunderland summoned a final burst of energy. When Seb Larsson flung over a late free-kick, this time there was no Coloccini to head clear. In his absence John O'Shea won a header he would not have and the ball cruelly ricocheted into the Newcastle goal off Ba's head. O'Neill's overwhelming emotion was relief. Justifiably so.
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 7/10, GARDNER 7, O’SHEA 6, CUELLAR 6, ROSE 8, JOHNSON 5, LARSSON 6, COLBACK 7, McCLEAN 5, SESSEGNON 4, FLETCHER 6
Newcastle: KRUL 7, SANTON 6, COLOCCINI 9, WILLIAMSON 8, SIMPSON 6, GUTIERREZ 7, TIOTE 3, CABAYE 8, BEN ARFA 8, SHOLA AMEOBI 7, BA 8
Goals: Sunderland: Ba 86 og. Newcastle:
Subs: Sunderland Saha 5 (Sessegnon, 64), Vaughan (Johnson, 83). Newcastle Perch 7 (Shola Ameobi, 38), S Taylor (Coloccini, 79), Obertan (Ben Arfa, 83).
Booked: Newcastle Shola Ameobi, Coloccini, Williamson, Cabaye. Sent off: Newcastle Tioté (25). Man of the match Coloccini. Match rating 6/10. Poss: Sund 51%. New 49%. Attempts on target: Sunderland 6. Newcastle 7. Ref M Atkinson (West Yorks). Att 47,456.Reuse content