At the end, in the heat of a victory that will live for generations, came the salute. Such was the concern it would come from a Newcastle supporter that an entire police operation centred around it.
Only one came, and it was from the man who has stood at the centre of a storm since his appointment two weeks ago. Paolo Di Canio raised his right arm, and at the end of it were three fingers, pointing triumphantly towards Sunderland's delirious followers, somewhere up in the sky.
Three fingers. One for each goal.
Three fingers. Three points. The magic numbers.
It was all magic for Di Canio yesterday.
The scoreline, the greatest victory for Sunderland on Tyneside for 34 years, ensures its place in history.
The celebration for the second goal will similarly pass through the ages.
It was the moment Di Canio announced his arrival as a Premier League manager in the way he intended. It was Jose Mourinho. It was the manager of Sunderland charging down the touchline at St James' Park, fists pumping, sliding, in his best suit, on his knees, arms still outstretched, shouting his thanks to the footballing gods. And to Adam Johnson.
Johnson himself had not been shy in his own, personal triumph. It was a wonderful, winger's goal, cutting in on to his left foot, curling a 20-yard shot beyond the outstretched right hand of Rob Elliot, the substitute Newcastle goalkeeper, who could do no better than the player he replaced, Tim Krul, in quelling the vibrancy of a city's great rivals.
Off came Johnson's shirt, swirled in the air as he too slid on his knees to a corner flag in the heart of Newcastle's supporters, acid on an open wound. But it was still Di Canio's goal. It was Di Canio's day. They all will be. His was the energy burst that Ellis Short sought when he made the biggest call he will ever make as owner of a football club, and sacked experience, and brought in fire.
It was Di Canio's day. It was Sunderland's day. They have waited 13 years for victory on Tyneside, but not in their wildest dreams, level on points with third-bottom Wigan in the Premier League table before a ball was kicked, did they expect to travel the 13 miles that separates these two warring cities and so systematically take their great rivals to pieces.
Johnson's was the second. Stéphane Sessègnon had scored the first, in the 27th minute. It came from a Newcastle mistake (and there were plenty of them) when Jonas Gutierrez wastefully surrendered possession on the halfway line. James McClean found Sessègnon, and after holding off Gutierrez, desperate in his bid to make amends for the error, he tucked a 20-yard shot, hit with precision, beyond Krul's right hand. The goal was deserved. Sunderland had dominated the first half but the strike gave belief. Newcastle were out-passed, out thought and out-fought.
Sunderland should have had a first-half penalty when Danny Graham clearly had his shirt tugged by Steven Taylor. They should have had a penalty in the second half when Graham's header struck the flailing arm of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (the first half call, involving the same players looked less certain).
That was the context in which to place a disallowed Papiss Cissé effort, that came when there was only one goal in the game, just past the hour mark. Sylvain Marveaux crossed, Moussa Sissoko flicked on and Cissé finished from close range. Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, celebrated. Relief, however, was brief. Replays showed there was not an offside moment, but a flag went up, and Newcastle's spirit went down.
Johnson's strike was excellent, cutting inside in the 74th minute, before crashing a shot out of the reach of Elliot. Out of reach. Most things were for Newcastle.
The questions are now for Pardew, and a dismal league campaign. Newcastle were awful. Losing to Sunderland at St James' Park is not something any Newcastle manager wants on their CV, just ask Ruud Gullit, who resigned after a loss in a storm 14 years ago.
Pardew looked dispirited in the immediate aftermath of defeat, as you would expect, but there was a gamble played this week, and he lost. Newcastle, with Cissé and Yohan Cabaye starting against Benfica on Thursday, were strong enough to weaken themselves for yesterday's fixture, but not strong enough to win the Europa League quarter-final.
There were still five fresh pairs of legs against Sunderland, but they did not show. The decision to play Gutierrez at left-back was a major mistake. Statistics showed Newcastle made two interceptions in the game. Sunderland managed 20. As Newcastle rocked, so Sunderland, so unlike the team Martin O'Neill said were not good enough, went for the throat. With seven minutes remaining, and the home side all over the place, Sessègnon passed to substitute David Vaughan, who crashed his shot into the top corner. Not since Gary Rowell scored a hat-trick on this ground have Sunderland enjoyed such superiority.
There were no redeeming features for Pardew. On top of everything, he must reckon for the rest of this season without his first-choice goalkeeper, Krul, who dislocated his shoulder in palming away a free-kick.
Two points now separate the two rivals. It must now be evens as to who finishes higher and that is a truly phenomenal turnaround in the space of seven days, from when Newcastle supporters embraced their manager into their hearts last week to where his lot was last night. He trooped down the tunnel with a clap to fans who were either not there or no longer interested.
Di Canio by contrast, led his delirious players in salute to their fans. As they departed, centre stage was his. He pointed across to those fans and then began banging his chest; another salute of victory. In the dressing room he would enter, moments later, blasted out the Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire".
Fire. Sunderland had it. Newcastle did not.Reuse content