The Sunderland manager, Roy Keane, did his best to defuse the situation but the Football Association is to investigate Joey Barton's high, raking tackle on his former Manchester City colleague Dickson Etuhu on the stroke of half-time during Saturday's Sunderland-Newcastle United derby. Visibly upset, Etuhu put his forehead on Barton's as the two teams departed for the interval but the referee, Martin Atkinson, took no action.
Barton, however, can be punished retrospectively and the FA's intervention yesterday suggests that a three-match ban could be on its way for the controversial 25-year-old. Keane said after the game: "I don't want to talk about the Barton incident. I am not going to get bogged down by a tackle that was slightly high. That happens in these games, a lot of them are mistimed."
The Newcastle manager, Sam Allardyce, was more critical of the player, saying that Barton "should not do it" but Allardyce also stressed that Barton's reputation precedes him and implied that this can lead to opinion being distorted. That has been something of an Allardyce theme on Tyneside. He perceives himself to be the victim of negativity in his short time at Newcastle, but, despite what Allardyce may think, the fact is that it is not engineered. It is because Newcastle are a different beast to his previous club, Bolton.
Even though James Milner's cross-shot equaliser after a one-two with Barton was celebrated ecstatically by Newcastle fans, with whom the club's new owner, Mike Ashley, mingled and was pictured with his jersey off, the supporters, and presumably Ashley, knew that the point was earned due to Sunderland's wastefulness. The Wearsiders created nine chances in a raucous affair, but took only one of them, a Danny Higginbotham header.
The visiting fans had the evidence of their own eyes. Sloppy defensively and unambitious in attack, Newcastle played well for about 20 minutes of the second half when Emre Belozoglu and Barton tried to manufacture some push-and-run. Barton's cushioned pass to Milner came in this period.
In the lion's den, Newcastle were not going to turn on their own but when they got home, the talk was about style and substance. It has been this way since the 0-0 draw against Aston Villa in the first home game under Allardyce and for all the patter about Newcastle's roller-coaster there is an argument to be made that says, in terms of supporters' faith, Newcastle have been on a plateau since they began to lose belief in Bobby Robson in the Uefa Cup semi-final in Marseilles three and a half years ago.
Thus, although Newcastle have had their best home start for a decade, which Allardyce mentioned, enthusiasm is on hold. Results on the road undermine conviction, leaving Allardyce speaking of impatience at a club that has not won the title since 1927.
"Martin O'Neill didn't win for 16 matches last season," Allardyce said. "That's what you need in a first year with new owners." Actually it was 12 matches.
That is how many Newcastle have now played and their 18 points total averaged over a season would probably be enough for a Uefa Cup place. But, unlike five years ago, when Newcastle had a point more under Robson, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have yet to be visited.
For Keane, 10 points from 13 games led to the obvious conclusion: "If we continue at this rate it would make it difficult for us." They are two managers with much to ponder.
Goals: Higginbotham (62) 1-0; Milner (65) 1-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2) Gordon; Nosworthy (Collins, 25) McShane, Higginbotham, Harte; Edwards, Leadbitter, Etuhu, Wallace (Stokes, 73); Chopra, Jones. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Miller, Connolly.
Newcastle United (4-1-3-2) Harper; Taylor, Faye (Beye, 62), Rozehnal, N'Zogbia; Smith; Barton, Emre (Geremi, 88) Milner; Viduka, Owen (Martins, 83). Substitutes not used: Forster (gk), Enrique
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Faye, Taylor; Newcastle Chopra.
Man of the match: Higginbotham.
Attendance: 47,701.Reuse content