Souness rides luck in derby test of nerve

Newcastle United 3 Sunderland 2
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Yesterday, however, he could hardly complain that the wheel of fortune had not spun kindly for him.

If this was a Tyne-Wear derby he needed to win, then the fates decided he would secure his wish. Twice in front, twice pegged back by an opponent whose performance made nonsense of the Premiership table, Newcastle achieved supremacy with a goal worthy of the occasion but only after Sunderland, rather cruelly, had been denied a seemingly legitimate penalty claim and then thought they had snatched a third equaliser only for Stephen Elliott's chip over a stranded Shay Given to bounce back off the crossbar.

If that were not enough to send the Sunderland supporters home feeling hard done by, there was also the knowledge that Newcastle's second goal had in fact made contact with Steven Caldwell's head rather than any part of Shola Ameobi's anatomy. Oh, and Emre Belozoglu's winning free-kick, beautifully struck though it was, did clip the post on the way in.

"I love derby games and on the whole they have been kind to me," Souness conceded, "although I was not going to tempt fate by saying so beforehand."

A veteran of high-pressure shoot-outs in Liverpool, Glasgow and Istanbul, Souness was taking charge of his first in this city. If he was relieved with the outcome, after a week of mounting pressure following the defeat at Wigan, it was only because the continued absence of Albert Luque, Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble, Craig Moore and Celestine Babayaro, with Michael Owen now added to that list, did not undermine him again.

"If I could have done, I would have taken Stephen Carr and Scott Parker off at half-time," he said. "Stephen has a groin injury and Scott a dead leg. They deserve a special mention for carrying on."

By how wide a margin a full-strength Newcastle team would have been superior to Sunderland, one can only guess. Mick McCarthy's team, a cut-price collection of honest grafters plucked largely from the lower divisions, gave an impressive account of themselves. Dean Whitehead, a free transfer from Oxford United, directed operations with considerable authority from the back of midfield. He was booked in the first minute after clattering into Emre but did not allow his performance to be compromised. There was fine support, too, from Liam Lawrence (Mansfield Town, free) and Tommy Miller (Ipswich Town, free).

Criticisms could be levelled at their defence, who somehow allowed Ameobi a free header even with everyone in the penalty area as Newcastle drew first blood, but the goals with which Lawrence and Elliott replied were of high quality.

Lawrence, first going past Parker, beat Given with a skimming shot from 20 yards. Caldwell inadvertently headed the home side back in front, but then Elliott came up with the goal of the afternoon, slipping past Jean-Alain Boumsong and shrugging off Parker before curling home a delightful left-footer. All that happened in eight minutes, ensuring this derby would last long in the memory.

With so many others missing, Souness's relief at having Emre back for his first start since August was enormous. "I know how good he is and he is still two yards short of that," Souness said of the midfielder. A foul by Caldwell on Ameobi gave the Turkish international his chance to be the hero, offering a free-kick from 25 yards that he swung around the Sunderland wall and in at Kelvin Davis's left-hand post.

That, and the foul by Charles N'Zogbia on Lawrence that did not result in a penalty, was greeted with typical black humour by a fatalistic McCarthy. "These things happen," he said. "They were always going to get a free-kick near the edge of our box sooner or later and there was about as much chance of Liam Lawrence getting a penalty here as of me having to make my own way home under my own steam, flapping my arms."

Goals: Ameobi (32) 1-0; Lawrence (34) 1-1; Caldwell og (36) 2-1; Elliott (40) 2-2; Emre (62) 3-2.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Taylor, Boumsong, Ramage; Solano (Clark, 79), Parker, Emre (Faye, 80), N'Zogbia; Ameobi (Chopra, 78), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Caig (gk), Brittain.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen (Stubbs, 41), Caldwell, Hoyte; Lawrence, Whitehead, Miller, Welsh (Arca, h-t); Gray (Le Tallec, 78), Elliott. Substitutes not used: Robinson, Alnwick (gk).

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Newcastle Parker; Sunderland Whitehead, Miller.

Man of the match: Whitehead.

Attendance: 52,302.