Alan Pardew had the grace to sidestep any question about the significance of a victory over Sunderland on his first return to the North-east since he resigned as the manager of Newcastle.
But the Crystal Palace manager’s smile and body language told its own story. Pardew, in part, left St James’ Park, because of his pitiful record in the regional derby. He was the first manager of Newcastle to lose four successive derbies to Sunderland. Earlier this season The Stadium of Light had sung “Don’t sack Pardew”. To put it in context, Sunderland have won three of their last 22 Premier League games, and two of those were against Newcastle.
Pardew could never get past that record with sections of Newcastle’s support, so when yesterday’s goal flood took hold, in 14 staggering minutes at the start of the second half, Pardew’s smile grew ever wider. Palace were very good, Sunderland were very bad and Pardew was very happy.
It all started in the 48th minute, when Yannick Bolasie fired in an angled shot that deflected to the far post, where Glenn Murray headed his side ahead. New manager Dick Advocaat once more spoke of how brittle the Sunderland players he inherited are, and it was staggering to see the speed of the collapse. Three minutes later, Murray headed down to Bolasie and the forward stabbed in a second. Two more minutes after that Bolasie left John O’Shea for dead before cleverly lifting the ball over Costel Pantilimon. Sunderland were beaten and their supporters were leaving the stadium early, as they had done in Gus Poyet’s last game before he was sacked.
The fourth goal was not long in coming either, arriving just past the hour when Murray squared to Bolasie, whose desire was greater than any Sunderland defender or Pantilimon.
“The team was excellent today,” said Pardew. “We had a spell where we were almost unplayable. It was a performance as a manager you can just be proud of. They were emphatic in what they did today. That front quartet were irresistible at times. We are a dangerous team. In some ways, the scoreline flattered Sunderland.”
The home side scored in the final minute through Connor Wickham, but their fragility means it will be another fraught finish to a season.
“Yeah I was shocked,” said Advocaat. “You see what can change in six days’ time. A good performance against Newcastle and today we were not in the game. We gave it away in seven minutes. We have to improve as a team but it will not improve if I start shouting against everybody. Some players are at their limits.”
Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon; Jones, Vergini, O’Shea, Van Aanholt; Cattermole (Bridcutt, 65); Defoe, Rodwell, Gomez (Johnson, 59), Wickham; Fletcher.
Crystal Palace: (4-2-3-1) Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souaré (Kelly, 35); McArthur (Ledley, 69), Jedinak; Zaha, Bolaise (Sanogo, 71), Puncheon; Murray.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Bolasie (Crystal Palace)
Match rating: 5/10