It is three years since Thomas Sorensen reduced Tyneside to tears, saving an 81st-minute Alan Shearer penalty to earn Sunderland a famous 2-1 derby win at St James' Park. The Danish goalkeeper did it again yesterday, flinging himself to his left in the Gallowgate End goal - as he did in November 2000 - to parry a spot-kick by Newcastle United's talismanic captain, spokily once again after 81 minutes.
On this occasion, his late heroics only earned a point, although it was Aston Villa's first of the season away from Birmingham, doubling the return they gained from their goalless trip to St Andrew's a fortnight ago. It was not the only stunning save by Sorensen yesterday and not the only notable contribution by a Sunderland old boy in the Villa ranks.
Two yellow cards added up to a sending off for Gavin McCann, leaving David O'Leary's side with 10 men for the final 20 minutes. The midfielder's reluctant departure had the Toon Army wallowing in schadenfreude, but it was Sorensen - like McCann, a £2.25m summer signing from Sunderland - who had the last laugh.
"He made a very good save," Sir Bobby Robson acknowledged. "It wasn't a poor penalty. It wasn't Alan's day, but I never quibble about penalties. He's taken far more of them than I have. And he feels worse about it than anyone at the club. I know that."
For Sir Bobby's boys, it was a second setback in four days at St James', their winning run of four Premiership matches coming to an end in the wake of the midweek Carling Cup defeat against West Bromwich Albion. And their veteran captain was not the only candidate in the blame stakes.
In the third minute Laurent Robert headed woefully wide with Sorensen's goal at his mercy, and eight minutes later the Newcastle defence were caught playing statues. Gareth Barry clipped a left-wing corner to the near-post, where Dion Dublin planted the simplest of headers past Shay Given, despite the close proximity of three members of the nominal home guard.
Shearer might have equalised in the 25th minute, but his fine diving header met with a brilliant reflex save from Sorensen, the inspired Dane acrobatically tipping the ball over his crossbar. Sorensen also clawed wide a curling Lee Bowyer shot but he was beaten in first-half injury-time, Robert rifling home a left-footed volley after a botched clearance by Peter Whittingham.
Sorensen's brilliance twice thwarted Robert in the second-half, before Newcastle's French winger was scythed down by McCann. The one-time England midfielder had already been booked for a crude hack at Lee Bowyer, yet he made his displeasure known as he passed the home bench, sparking an animated verbal spat between O'Leary and Newcastle's first-team coach, John Carver.
It was Sorensen, though, who had the final say, coming to Villa's rescue - and coming back to haunt Shearer and St James' - after Barry handled a Robert corner.
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Aston Villa 1
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