It was honours even in the first proper derby of the season, but I felt a fairly flat leaving the ground, knowing we should have and could have won. A familiar story this season. This game takes on an atmosphere, expectation and reaction from the supporters like none other. Its one you cannot lose but given our home record against them and our placing in the league, we really needed to win this one.
The build up was as usual fairly frenetic, virtually all of Northumbria’s police officers will have got in a hefty amount of overtime today thanks to the almost over the top policing in terms of numbers. It did however seem to deter the idiots from plying their trade, so I suppose it was worth the effort.
The game itself, Sunderland welcomed back Carlos Edwards who has been much missed since his injury 2 games into the season. Wallace and Chopra came back in as did the returning Mcshane, another player we’ve missed badly. Allardyce shuffled his pack once more and played a number of players out of positions, which if he doesn’t keep getting results will see his stock with the cartoon army fall even further. Viduka was the main story for them, returning to partner England’s Michael Owen up front.
For a change we didn’t get off to a slow start and we were quicker to the ball, passed it better and had good width. Edwards’ threat was noticeable immediately as a cross reached the back post after two minutes were an unmarked Wallace hit a volley over the bar. It wasn’t easy but if he kept it down it might have caused Harper problems. Jones was again winning everything in the air and Chopra looked like he was up for it, he twice got into the box in the first half but a turn and shot on both occasions didn’t quite get past Harper, the second forcing a good save though.
Nosworthy had to go off after 25 minutes with an injury after trying to keep a ball in play; it looked like a pulled muscle. Collins came on and switched flanks with Harte but it didn’t have a negative effect too much, infact Collins seemed get forward with Wallace well and Harte did as well on the right as the left. Newcastle weren’t causing many problems. Smith was playing deep in midfield, Barton was wide right and Milner was on the wrong side. Harte kept him quiet which meant not much service was getting to Owen and Viduka. Any long balls were mainly won by Mcshane or Higginbotham.
2 more chances for Leadbitter after the half hour saw a shot blocked on the line and a free header go over from close range, chances we need to go in. Newcastle were clearly happy to get in at half time still level, generally out-muscled, out-played and out-thought. Right on half time a spat between Etuhu and Barton saw a few handbags and whinging from Newcastle’s resident thug.
Again we started the half brightly, and after 2 minutes we got that all important goal. A ball was played up to Jones who ran at Rozenhal, he managed to get a tackle in that went for a corner. Most of the players were still catching up with play but as Jones went across to take the kick himself, he passed short to Leadbitter who crossed into the box. The runners coming in were unmarked in the panic and Higginbotham steamed in at the back post to head past Harper for the lead. Celebrating with about 20 of the crowd on the pitch itself, Higginbotham wrote himself into SAFC history. If we could hold out for the win he would be a legend. But we had been here before and lost so the hard work started now.
Slowly they began to get more possession and get deeper into our half, still with no real threat though. Then after the hour Milner carved open the equalizer. He cut in from the left, wandered into the box and hit a poor cross that managed to elude everyone and bobble in off the post. It was a ridiculously soft goal and infuriating that we should give away the lead to one like it. He probably should have been closed down before he got as far as he did, but Gordon should have done better. I’m not sure if he thought it was going out or not but if he reacted quicker he could have saved it. Time to go again.
We nearly had the lead again a minute later as Jones again shrugged Rozenhal off on the edge of the box but his left foot shot flew past the post. Jones had the beating of Newcastles centre-halves but they were managing to keep him out. For a while both sides seemed to be unsure whether to attack or not, fearful of the defeat but as time wore on Newcastle were clearly happy with the draw. Chopra had the best chance late in the game as a header from a corner hit the bar and was cleared. As we pushed on a little it gave them a bit more space up front. Owen forced a save out of Gordon after doing well from a long clearance off Harper and Martins was nearly played in for a late winner but was narrowly offside.
So it all ended a bit disappointing, considering we had the lead and had the better of the game. Despite Newcastle having some big name players they’re very ordinary and look nervous. This was as good a time as ever to beat them. Both teams should be stronger for the return game in April. How much rests on that depends on how we do in the run up to Christmas. We need to start winning games and with Derby next at home it’s a must win. The winless run against Newcastle at home goes on but we got a bit of pride back today following the last few derby games were we didn’t show up, we’ll at least have a bit more respect coming our way now.
Man of the match – Danny Higginbotham.
Report by marcopaul