Wearside storm sends Sunderland soaring, but blows Newcastle into trouble (From The Advertiser Series)
Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting NORTHERN ECHO to 80360 or email us
Wearside storm sends Sunderland soaring, but blows Newcastle into trouble
ACCORDING to yesterday's news reports, a storm was due to batter southern Britain from the early evening onwards. On Wearside, it arrived at the start of the afternoon.
Red-and-white in nature, and peaking five minutes before the end of a typically thrilling Wear-Tyne encounter, it swept Sunderland to their first win of the season and lifted Gustavo Poyet's side off the foot of the Premier League.
On the other side of the North-East divide, however, the damage inflicted by the Wearside whirlwind could be immense. Prior to kick-off, Alan Pardew spoke of the derby setting the agenda for the next two months. By the time the full-time whistle blew at the Stadium of Light, the Newcastle United boss must have been bracing himself for an extensive clear-up operation. Whether he is capable of carrying it out remains to be seen.
For all the good things he has achieved since his appointment at St James' Park almost three years ago, Pardew's record against Sunderland is now a source of considerable concern.
One win, three draws, two defeats – unacceptable in the eyes of most Newcastle supporters, particularly when the Magpies have generally been above their opponents in the table when the two sides have met.
The last Newcastle manager to suffer two derby defeats in succession was Joe Harvey back in 1966-67, and while yesterday's defeat was neither as embarrassing or emphatic as the 3-0 reverse on home soil in April, it was every bit as painful.
Six months ago, the derby reverse almost resulted in Newcastle being relegated, with their next home fixture seeing them ship six goals against Liverpool. “Pyschologically, we weren't ready for that game,” Pardew has subsequently admitted. Well, he had better hope his players are ready for what is coming up this time around, with Wednesday's Capital One Cup fourth-round tie with Manchester City providing a huge test before the next two Premier League matches pit Newcastle against Chelsea and Tottenham. No soft landings there.
After yesterday, this feels like a crucial stage of the season, and while this month's win at Cardiff City quelled the mutiny that was swelling in the wake of a dreadful first-half display at Everton, the mutterings of discontent that accompanied much of last season are evident once more.
One suspects that the club's decision to ban three prominent local newspapers – the Evening Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun – because of their coverage of last week's protest march is representative of a heightened state of anxiety among the hierarchy at St James' Park.
On the pitch, the failings that were apparent in yesterday's derby defeat were reminiscent of the problems that contributed to last season's home humiliation at the hands of Sunderland and that were apparent throughout much of a fraught campaign.
Despite all the talk of the derby's importance last week, Newcastle's players were caught cold, unable to deal with Sunderland's energetic opening and finding themselves on the back foot throughout a reasonably one-sided first half that ended with the Black Cats fully deserving their advantage.
Newcastle improved after the interval, and would have claimed a point had Fabio Borini not scored one of the great derby goals, but their attacking play was disjointed and it is hard to escape the conclusion that Pardew remains uncertain of his best line-up and formation.
Is Hatem Ben Arfa really a centre-forward? Given that he was moved out wide after half-an-hour or so, probably not. Is Moussa Sissoko the best player to fill the hole behind the striker? There is very little compelling evidence to suggest so. Where should Yoan Gouffran fit into the side? Ten months after the Frenchman arrived on Tyneside, no one really seems sure.
In Pardew's defence, it is not his fault that a lack of alternatives forced him to play inexperienced full-back Paul Dummett as a makeshift centre-half, with the 22-year-old finding himself out-jumped as Steven Fletcher headed home Sunderland's opener.
Losing your leading three centre-halves at the same time is unfortunate, but the impact was undoubtedly enhanced by Newcastle's failure to strengthen in that department this summer.
Sunderland's summer transfer activity was manic, and on the day that chairman Ellis Short used his programme notes to accept full blame for the “turmoil” that has engulfed his club at the start of the season, there was a delicious irony in the sight of a previously unheralded summer signing scoring a goal that will be celebrated for many years to come. That the player in question was an Italian was a further twist of fate.
Borini's winner still leaves Sunderland four points adrift of the safety zone, and with Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham the next three visitors to the Stadium of Light, Poyet's side remain in deep trouble.
But the sense of fatalism that was apparent in the build-up to yesterday's game has at least been tempered by a renewed bout of optimism, and the kernel of a functioning side is beginning to emerge from the shambles that was bequeathed by Paolo Di Canio.
For all that the derby towers over the rest of the season in this part of the world, Di Canio is proof that its power can sometimes be fleeting.
The Italian led Sunderland to a result they could hardly have dreamed of, but little more than six months later, he was leaving in a state of complete chaos.
Perhaps the same will happen to Poyet if he is unable to build on the positive effects of yesterday's win, most notably the competitive instinct that was personified by Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback, the organisation and team shape that was the result of the changes he made in the wake of last weekend's defeat at Swansea and the effectiveness of the partnership struck up by Fletcher and Jozy Altidore in attack.
Having extended their unbeaten derby record to four matches, Sunderland have a platform to build from as they look to haul themselves out of relegation trouble in the matches that remain.
Despite yesterday's defeat, Newcastle remain seven points better off than their fiercest rivals. As the derby inquests begin though, it doesn't feel as though they are any more secure.
Comments are closed on this article.