THERE was a penalty scored, a spot-kick missed, far too many yellow cards and a couple of unnecessary dismissals, on another afternoon when the Tyne- Wear rivalry lived up to its billing as one of the most hotlycontested derbies in the world.
Yet when the dust settles on the fall-out from yesterday’s latest controversial meeting between Sunderland and Newcastle United, there is likely to be a name that crops up once more.
Just when it seemed the Black Cats would hold on to the slender one-goal advantage Nicklas Bendtner clinically scored from the spot in the 24th minute, Newcastle’s very own Geordie hero Shola Ameobi popped up when it mattered again.
Not content with scoring six goals against Newcastle’s staunchest rivals in the past, the club’s longest-serving player arrived in the box to turn in number seven with 90 minutes on the clock. Ameobi, once again, proved to be a derby great.
It was a goal which sparked wild scenes of celebration and relief among Magpies fans, players and coaching staff, preventing Sunderland from claiming a first win at St James’ Park since November 2000.
This was another derby day to remember (or forget, depending on your view of the beautiful game) – even if there wasn’t a winner on an afternoon when a draw was probably a fair reflection of a Premier League fixture that had a little bit of everything. Above all, it had an abundance of passion.
From the moment Lee Cattermole, who ended up being red-carded after the final whistle for mouthing off at referee Mike Dean, set the tone for the game with a crunching, late tackle on Cheik Tiote after just 39 seconds, the tempo never eased.
The combative approach from the Sunderland skipper rubbed off on those around him in red and white and Tiote and his team-mates were ruffled.
Sunderland dominated the majority of the first half, regularly pressing forward in search of the opener.
Five of the game’s eight cautions arrived inside the first 23 minutes, with the yellow card picked up by James McClean for a firm challenge on Danny Simpson sparking a touchline 21-man fracas in front of the Gallowgate.
Again, that only appeared to affect Newcastle’s style, with Sunderland taking control then being rewarded with the opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot.
When Demba Ba was booked for a foul on Craig Gardner, Kieran Richardson floated over the free-kick and Michael Turner had his shirt pulled by Mike Williamson.
Dean awarded the penalty, Bendtner stepped up and confidently found Tim Krul’s bottom right corner.
Sunderland’s Danish international then forced Krul, fresh from signing a new five-year contract on Friday, to make a low save down to his left moments later, as the visiting fans high in the Leazes End sensed victory.
Stephane Sessegnon was holding play up like a towering, old fashioned centre-forward and linking up well with those around him, as his team-mates effectively chased everything down.
But just as half-time neared, Newcastle did start to show glimpses of the qualities which have seen them stay among the Premier League’s top six this season – even if their frustration boiled over in the tunnel when goalkeeper coach Andy Woodman was sent to the stands for a clash with Sunderland fitness coach Jim Henry.
Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had to make a low save to stop Fabricio Coloccini’s back post header, Ryan Taylor saw a volley deflect for a corner, then he curled a freekick over the bar. That was just a taste of what was to follow after the restart.
From the moment Newcastle boss Alan Pardew introduced Hatem Ben Arfa for Davide Santon there was more purpose about the home team. Suddenly Kieran Richardson and Mc- Clean, doubling up on Sunderland’s left flank, had things to worry about.
Time and time again Ben Arfa found space and created things, which enabled Newcastle to end up with 20 shots at goal. An indication of their problem, however, was that only five of those were on target.
Ba missed a couple of decent efforts in the early stages of the second half, but arguably 60 seconds of frantic derby action involving Sunderland players proved decisive.
After Krul had made an outstanding double save to deny Seb Larsson and McClean in quick succession, Sunderland lost Sessegnon for the final 32 minutes.
The Benin international’s decision to react to some close attention from Tiote by flicking his fist into the chest of his fellow African earned him a red card.
It meant the main outlet for Sunderland as an attacking force had gone, as Bendtner struggled to hold up play from that moment on.
And when Bendtner was replaced with Fraizer Campbell, Pardew also introduced Ameobi for the final 19 minutes and the intensity of Newcastle’s pressure increased.
They had a couple of penalty appeals waved away for hand ball and another dismissed when the unpredictable Ben Arfa appeared to have been shoved to the floor in the area by McClean.
But Sunderland, despite being a man down, looked like having enough to keep them out. Michael Turner and John O’Shea were exceptional at the heart of the defence, regularly blocking and clearing.
And even when Campbell inexplicably slid towards Ameobi on the wet surface and brought him down to concede a penalty with eight minutes to go, Ba was unable to make the most of the opportunity.
Mignolet dived low to his left to get a strong left hand to the Senegal striker’s penalty, which sparked satisfying celebrations from the Sunderland dug-out just moments after Pardew and Martin O’Neill had to be separated following the penalty decision.
But Newcastle had the last laugh as 90 minutes went up on the clock. Cabaye’s centre was flicked on by Williamson and Ameobi, lurking at the back post, had enough on his finish to slot the equaliser inside Mignolet’s near post.
Tiote celebrated with Pardew, Krul danced around on his own, while the rest of the Newcastle players celebrated with the fans.
Even when the final whistle was blown, the controversy was not over. Cattermole could not resist the temptation to criticise some of the referee’s decisions and he was red carded at the end of a fantastic individual display.
O’Neill might not have been able to savour an early Tyne- Wear derby win as Sunderland manager, but one thing’s for sure: He knows exactly what it will mean to deliver one.