"Oh no! Look who the Mags have signed," the printed voice of Wearside groaned on the day Alan Shearer's pounds 15m homecoming was announced. The message in last night's Football Echo was no doubt similarly mournful after Newcastle's high-priced predator pounced to deny Sunderland their first win in a league fixture on Tyneside since 1979. It was the only contribution of any real consequence Shearer made on his return to action following his third groin operation in 10 weeks. But as he tapped in his 21st goal of the season, from fully three yards, England's Braun leader salvaged a point and a face-saving measure of parochial pride. Coming, as it did, with 13 minutes left, it was a close shave for Newcastle.
It was doubtless greeted with despair 13 miles down the road, where 5,000 or so Sunderland fans gathered to cheer on their side in front of the Jumbotron screen erected on the pitch at Roker Park. They watched the have-nots of Tyne and Wear steadily get the better of the neighbouring haves after the pounds 10m disparity between the price of Newcastle's No 9 and the cost of Reid's entire squad had been evident in the opening 20 minutes.
Les Ferdinand squandered three promising openings before Chris Waddle turned the tide with one sweeping stroke of his left foot. Taunted by chants of "Judas" from the fellow-Geordies who have never forgiven him for precipitating the exodus of world-class local talent in the 1980s, the Newcastle old boy delivered the sublime cross-field ball that allowed the industrious Gray to test the reflexes of Shaka Hislop. It was merely a near thing on that occasion but when Waddle again found his colleague lurking with intent on the left edge of the area, 10 minutes later, Gray cut inside his marker and rifled a low drive crisply inside the diving Hislop and the near post.
The few red and whites who had somehow gained access to the Toon Army's fortress were unable to contain their joy. Pockets of scuffling erupted around the ground and most disturbingly in the vicinity of the executive boxes, where restless natives clambered over seats and barriers to reach one unwelcome "intruder" who chose to reveal his true colours. The prevailing atmosphere was as ugly as the visible flashpoints and as intimidating as that which turned Roker into a seething cauldron of hate when the "home fans only" policy was adopted between the north-east neighbours back in September.
The mood mellowed only when David Kelly emerged from the Sunderland dug- out. The standing ovation was a mark of lingering appreciation for the late winner against Portsmouth that ultimately saved Newcastle from the (old) Third Division five years ago. It was Sunderland's misfortune that Kelly's goalscoring eye was not so keen yesterday, his poor finish allowing Hislop to hold on to the point Shearer's poaching instinct had placed within Newcastle's grasp. With Sunderland's first away win since November beckoning, David Ginola hoisted a hopeful ball into the box, Warren Barton headed down and the England captain did the rest.
Asked what he thought when Shearer's name appeared on the team sheet, Peter Reid stonewalled: "I never comment on the opposition." "Oh, no!" was probably much closer to the mark.Reuse content