Newcastle 0 Sunderland 1 comment: Derby passions break into show of solidarity

Black Cats won thanks to late Johnson strike

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The Independent Online

They have been selling “Santa Is a Geordie” scarves on Northumberland Street in Newcastle city centre this past week. It was a Christmas message lost on 50,000 locals as they trooped out of St. James’ Park on Sunday. If it were true, Santa has a funny way of showing it.

On a day offering contrast after contrast, when fans taunted each other as graphically as ever, helicopters hovered and police were on front-foot alert – while those same fans also applauded one another for the compassion shown towards John Alder and Liam Sweeney, the two Newcastle supporters killed in flight MH17 – red trumped black.

Sample scenes included the now customary applause in the 17th minute, which recognises that flight number, but also in the 33rd minute to acknowledge the £33,000 donated by a fund set up by a Sunderland supporter in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Then again, when Steven Taylor was injured early in the second half after a brave goalline clearance, the chant from the visitors’ section was “We wish you were dead”. It is an old refrain now, Taylor fulfils the role of enemy.

So while it was conciliatory, it was confrontational, the contradiction being contained in the goalscorer, Adam Johnson, released by Newcastle’s academy.

 

The game takes over on days like this. Even the casino economics that saw away fans charged £47 for the privilege of being here were pushed to the margins for those heading back across to Wearside.

Those 13 miles separating the twin North-east city-states of Newcastle and Sunderland can feel like a distance; but as Gus Poyet has come to understand, it is an intimate distance. This hurts; this thrills. It cuts both ways.

It was money well spent for the 3,000 visitors housed high in the Leazes End. They had come on a convoy of buses, well, most of them had. Others came on foot and walked up Barrack Road at lunchtime with light-touch police lines and shouting black-and-white Newcastle followers bellowing at them. Gratitude for fund-raising was not being offered.

The response of most in red was to raise three fingers – Sunderland won 3-0 here in February and 3-0 the time before that – although one donned a horse’s head he had brought for the afternoon.

Bud, the police horse punched outside St. James’ in 2013 during the fall-out of the Paolo Di Canio derby, has entered into mythology. That was visible in the fan’s headgear but it was also alluded to a fortnight ago in a nearby pub when fans from both clubs came along under the banner of “A Derby To Be Proud Of”.

Steve Howey, representing Newcastle, and Kevin Ball, representing Sunderland, spoke sensibly and passionately. There was common cause, hands extended. Ball joked that a reason for seeking harmony was “no more policing costs, and no more veterinary bills”.

The Football Supporters’ Federation said they were not trying to tame the derby – “this is not about happy-clappy” – but there was a desire to alter the tone.

Even Taylor caught the mood. A pantomime villain to Wearsiders, Taylor beforehand talked of meaningful gestures.  “A lot of respect has got to go to the Sunderland fans for all they have done for John and Liam,”  Taylor said. “That was a massive thing. I even think it’s gone a bit unnoticed in the build-up to the game. For them to raise over £33,000, and they were just aiming for £100 at the start, for me is amazing. I have a lot of time for that and so do all the lads here.”

Johnson2.jpg
Adam Johnson strikes his late winner at St James' Park

Taylor’s mind was certainly altered, when he prevented Steven Fletcher from scoring and clattered into a goalpost.

Taylor left the pitch for treatment and there was a huge roar when he returned. That animation from a sometimes subdued home crowd lifted Newcastle to their best spell of pressure in the match. There is a balance to be sought between heart and head and Alan Pardew said afterwards he thought his players “got wrapped up in the emotion of the derby”.

Yet in the beginning, when Ayoze Perez, was threatening, and later when Adam Armstrong and Papiss Cissé came on, it was their very spirit which roused the stadium. Sunderland looked most vulnerable during those swells.

When the visitors could make it into purely a football match rather than an occasion, they took a gentle grip, as personified in the clipped, almost languid performance of Jordi Gomez. Gomez came through the La Masia academy at Barcelona and when asked recently who is the best player he’s ever played with, Gomez replied: “Messi.”

This was Gomez’s first North-east derby, it just didn’t look like it. But then as those scarves on Northumberland Street prove, perceptions can be disconcerting: Santa’s red and white.

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