Newcastle vs Sunderland match report: Aleksandar Mitrovic rescues precious point to break Black Cats' hearts

Newcastle United 1 Sunderland 1

It was not the famous No 9 shirt that Aleksandar Mitrovic waved around his head as delirium swept St James’. Newcastle United is too complicated a football club for that, but for a moment the failings and seemingly endless struggle were forgotten as relief created the wall of sound that Rafa Benitez had asked for on his home bow as manager.

As Mitrovic swirled his No 45 shirt, a supporter ran from the Gallowgate End and slipped through his legs. The forward jumped and then embraced the fan. He was mobbed by team-mates.

In the stands the familiar feeling of dread, that another defeat to Sunderland was on its way, was extinguished. In its place was uninhibited celebration. Relief. You could almost see the relief.

In that moment the 83rd-minute equaliser felt huge.

Sunderland had won the previous six Tyne-Wear derbies, an unprecedented run, and when Mitrovic jumped at the far post to head Georginio Wijnaldum’s right-wing cross past Vito Mannone, their support fell silent.

For perhaps two minutes, St James’ Park became the home of Newcastle United again, and the stadium came alive with noise and energy.


It was from that, rather than his team’s insipid first-half showing, that Benitez drew his own strands of belief afterwards, when the regional war had run its course, when the benches from each side had put down their handbags and when an attempt to make sense of the result was beginning. Without the goal, as Benitez seemed to agree, the battle to stay in the Premier League was probably all over. Without the goal, the walls of a structurally unsound football club were about to cave in. Against Sunderland.

You would not envy the new manager his position anyway, but it would have been an impossible task to lift the city after a seventh successive defeat to the local rivals, and with a four-point gap to safety to breach. The relationship between club and fan is too battered for that.

Instead, such is the tenuous grasp on Premier League life, there was a beep on the heart monitor. It showed Benitez that it is not a flatline. At least not yet.

“It was really important for everyone here,” said Benitez. “From the first fan, to the last one. Everybody needed a goal like this and a reaction like that. I said before that he [Mitrovic] has the potential. We have to help him a little bit with better crosses, better deliveries, and being closer to him. He will score goals if we can do that. 

“In the situation that we are in the table, to see the reaction of the players in the second half, I am really pleased. Hopefully we can keep this momentum for the next games.”

The 154th North-east derby did not need inflaming, as the fractious relationship between Benitez and his old foe Sam Allardyce threatened. There was enough without that, and Allardyce’s anger afterwards was not, for once, provoked by the Spaniard, but by his own players’ second-half retreat. 

“We’re our own worst enemy,” he said. “We will concede goals and that’s a nasty habit. It was a crime to sit back in a game like that and let them come at us.”

Shooting towards the Gallowgate End you play down a noticeable slope, and it looked it. In the first half Sunderland had had the kind of shape and power and welter of set pieces that Allardyce likes. They looked better than Newcastle, who still made good chances – Mitrovic, Mousa Sissoko and Jonjo Shelvey could all have scored – but whose level of fear was so great that an away goal felt inevitable.

Rob Elliot, who was probably Newcastle’s best player, made two outstanding saves in the opening 45 minutes. After nine minutes he fingertipped a Jack Rodwell header over the crossbar. Jermain Defoe then struck a shot into the side-netting and Wahbi Khazri fired across the Newcastle penalty area a shot that Defoe narrowly missed.

The opportunities felt like the glass breaking on a fire alarm in the heads of the Newcastle players. A goal would come, and it was again Defoe, who settled the fixture at the Stadium of Light last season, who struck, firing in an angled left-foot shot after Elliot had produced a superb save from Fabio Borini’s 20-yard drive and Chancel Mbemba failed to clear his lines.

Benitez kept most of his emotions in check for the afternoon, and he touched on a point made last season by the then Newcastle manager John Carver in relation to the brittle nature of the dressing room when he said he could not show how angry he was. “It was more about managing the situation,” he said.

But he was furious with just about everything for the goal, and he spun on his heel and stomped to his seat in the dugout as Defoe ran three quarters of the field in celebration.

At that point, it did not seem Newcastle had either the stomach or the goal to relieve his and the supporters’ frustration.  Bit by bit, however, they dragged themselves back into the game. 

Ayoze Perez had a shot cleared off the line by Yann M’Vila, Mitrovic sent a diving header straight at Mannone, Sissoko volleyed into the ground when well placed. But for all that, and the pressure that forced Sunderland backwards, Elliot still needed to produce another great save to deny Patrick Van Aanholt.

Then, with seven minutes remaining, in a move that started with a foul throw by Sissoko – who in turn had the ball only because of a foul throw by DeAndre Yedlin – Wijnaldum crossed to the far post and Mitrovic overpowered Yedlin to head past Mannone, beating John O’Shea’s efforts on the goal-line.

The scorer clashed heads with Lamine Koné in injury-time and was knocked unconscious. For the final two minutes he remonstrated with the Newcastle doctor and Benitez in his desire to get back on the field of play, which was deemed medically unsafe. 

The new manager has at least stopped a rot, although there are grim statistics everywhere – it is one win in nine games for Sunderland (although nine derbies without defeat) and one point from 15 for Newcastle.

When the final whistle went, the celebrating had ceased. Both sets of players looked at each other. Both clubs could still be relegated, but that there was even an element of uncertainty was down to the goal for which Mitrovic had removed his shirt.