Our first piece of post derby revelry comes from first time contributor to the site, Devon Bianchi.
It was written in the stars that Sam Allardyce would become the fourth successive manager to lead us to derby victory in his second game in charge, especially since he has never lost an opening Premier League home game as manager. However, in true derby style, the game wasn’t without controversy and, for once, Lady Luck was dressed in red and white and Sunderland were able to take “full advantage of a piece of good fortune” in the words of Big Sam himself.
Given our recent performances, the game could have gone either way. We have, at times, shown flickers of promise, which have ultimately been extinguished by scandalously squandered opportunities or calamitous officiating. After Newcastle’s 6-2 annihilation of Norwich last week, it was hard to be brimming with confidence going into the game, especially with the late blow that Borini would be ruled out due to a failed fitness test.
There is no denying that we played pretty woefully in the first half; Newcastle dominated possession and the lack of communication between the Sunderland players made it far too easy for them to intercept, leaving us struggling to push forward. However, the end result is the epitome of how one moment can influence the entire remainder of the game, which is an all too familiar feeling for Sunderland, who are often on the receiving end of such decisions, for example Martin Atkinson’s failure to award us a blatant free kick against West Brom.
Referees are often accused of ‘spoiling the game’ by sending players off, especially in games that have such strong emotions attached to them, but Coloccini’s challenge on Fletcher clearly denied him a goal-scoring opportunity and, as the last man, the rules state that it’s a red card. However, the minor inconvenience that is the rules of the game didn’t stop the Newcastle fans taking comfort in their denial that Colo’s awful decision to barge Steven Fletcher into next week was to blame rather than bad refereeing.
Steve McClaren even went as far as saying that Robert Madley’s penalty decision was simply “wrong” and that Newcastle should have been awarded a penalty themselves 30 seconds before that for a handball by Lee Cattermole. I think he must have had his head immersed in a ‘How To Speak Geordie’ book at that point because he couldn’t possibly have been watching the same game as everyone else.
It is true that Sunderland were barely in the game until Johnson buried from the penalty spot, but that’s football and it gave us the boost we needed in first half-stoppage time. I can understand Newcastle’s frustration; we were by no means the better team but the difference is that, as Big Sam said, we capitalised on the chances we were gifted, which is something we regularly struggle to do and something Newcastle failed to do with only eight of their 21 shots being on target.
It’s almost as if fate took over – I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve skied volleys miles over the crossbar or hoofed the ball wide when it was easier to score – but yesterday the players looked confident and composed when chances opened up. M’Vila’s low volley strike which set Jones up for the second goal was exceptional, Johnson was incredibly unlucky not to put us 3-0 up after his magnificent attempt that ricocheted off the woodwork and the lovely bit of play between Kaboul and Fletcher that sealed the deal was a joy to watch. Additionally, Pantilimon, despite being shaky in recent games, made some important saves to deny Wijnaldum and Perez from finding the back of the net and keep us our first clean sheet of the season.
There’s definitely a lot to take from the game moving forward but a penalty is a penalty, a goal is a goal and a sixth derby win in a row is a sixth derby win in a row (as crazy as it is to say out loud). We can only hope that this time Sunderland carry the derby day passion, determination and confidence with them into the upcoming run of fixtures.
As the saying – and our historical record – goes, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and there’s no doubt that we still have a long way to go to turn our season around. But since you’re as good as your last game, let’s bury the pessimism until Saturday and bask in the glory of being the best team in the North East yet again because God knows if it were the other way round we’d never hear the end of it. Fingers crossed that Sunday’s emotions will become a permanent fixture of the Big Sam era and remind us why being a Sunderland fan can sometimes be truly special.