As we begin to contemplate the proposition of Sunderland departing the familiar habitat of the Premier League on the eve of the derby, it'd probably be best to reflect on our ventures against the mags over the course of our current residence. Since the Keano-inspired promotion in 2007, our fortunes against the rivals against whom we crave victory most have been very mixed.
On Wearside, there is very much a lack of scoring in derbies over the last 6 years. Interestingly, sides managed by Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce and Joe Kinnear have scored a solitary goal in every fixture since our last promotion. One Sunderland win, three draws and an away win make for a perfectly balanced record between the two sides. Given the reputation of the fixture, it is somewhat remarkable that only two red cards have been branded, shown in the last two meetings to the player from each side that fans currently adore the mockery of; Phil Bardsley and then Cheick Tiote.
Not simply due to the result, the most memorable of these home fixtures for Sunderland fans is undoubtedly the 2008 victory. After having endured 28 years of failure on home soil against our bitter rivals, a tense game was won with a sublime piece of skill sure to go down in mackem folklore. Within the ninety minutes legend status was earned by Djibril Cissé, Steed Malbranque and Pascal Chimbonda as they, amongst others, helped us on our way to our only home win in the last 33 years against the Magpies.
In a typically passionate Roy Keane dictated performance; a strong start was made by the lads and led to an almost haywire cross from Malbranque being converted by Cissé. The man unable to relinquish, Shola Ameobi, increased his irritating 'mackem slayer' reputation with a goal soon after but the forward ironically went on to miss a gilt-edged chance later on as his slaying for the day looked over.
The introduction of the brutish Kenwyne Jones just shy of the hour mark proved an exquisite piece of tactical nous from Keane as the Trinidadian left Steven Taylor short of his bearings, let alone his postage stamps. However, it was utility man and consistently hard-working Kieran Richardson who had the brilliantly decisive say as he smashed in a goal of gargantuan influence in the 75th minute. After a foul upon the not so memorable Senegalese El-Hadji Diouf, the Englishman took the ball and placed it on the turf 20 metres from Shay Given's goal. What followed was a real landmark in the club's recent history and a goal that secured Richardson's place in Sunderland history.
On the contrary, away from home goals have not been hard to come by for either side. With two wins in the last five on Tyneside, Newcastle do have the upper hand in recent years with the pinnacle of course being the horror show of 2010 with which was born a new villain on Wearside in the form of Kevin Nolan. Clean sheets have been very hard to come over recent years in Tyneside-based derbies, with only one being boasted by the Black Cats. I doubt readers will need reminding of the fixture in which this took place!
Red cards have been regularly shown to the away players in this fixture, with Titus Bramble, Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon all having received marching orders over the last 3 years. Many would argue that Yoann Gouffran and Cheick Tiote should have joined this list over the last two seasons, but match officials have begged to differ.
The standout performance from a Sunderland perspective is of course the April hammering by which Paolo Di Canio will always be remembered. However, the season prior was when the fixture was played in the archetypal Wear-Tyne manner. The clash of March 2012 really did have it all; red cards, full-frontal challenges, penalties both saved and scored and even a touchline altercation. It was under the fondly liked but now sadly departed manager Martin O'Neill that the tempestuous face-off incurred. One man relied upon to add to the pizazz of this fixture is Lee Cattermole. And, as one might expect, he set the ball rolling with a heavy challenge on Tiote within the first minute.
A dominant first half display followed, and the lead was taken by enigmatic Nicklas Bendtner's penalty after 24 minutes. This advantage could and maybe should have been increased, but as it turned out the Mags came out of the tunnel fired up with the score at only 1-0 and started to press centre backs Michael Turner and John O'Shea. Simon Mignolet was called upon to perform multiple heroics but the Belgian had his teammate Sessegnon to thank for an even larger workload as the Benin playmaker got himself a needless red card with the kind of challenge from which the phrase 'handbags' surely derives. With 58 minutes gone, Sess' moment of silliness cost the team their counter-attacking nous as well as man power.
As Pardew's barely literate ranting was subjected towards his senior Irish counterpart, the Londoner's team continued to press. And, as it turned out, O'Neill's substitutions went on to cost his side the game. First Fraizer Campbell needlessly tripped Ameobi allowing for Demba Ba to attempt replicating his Danish opposition. An historic save from Mignolet kept him out, but with Newcastle still knocking at the door of an otherwise watertight defence, Ameobi took advantage of a defensive blunder from recently introduced Wayne Bridge to slot home an agonising equaliser.
Pardew breathed sighs of relief, O'Neill felt the sting of missing out on Sunderland immortality and Cattermole's rant at the officials, perhaps a little crude, earned the skipper a rather unnecessary red card after the final whistle. With all considered, a devastating near miss.
Here I am wondering…hoping…and a little dreading what stories Sunday will leave us.
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