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Rivals should be satisfied with derby draw
STEVEN TAYLOR was not the culprit, but it was typical that one of Newcastle United's very own helped Sunderland to avoid another defeat in the latest Wear-Tyne tussle at the Stadium of Light.
Having cheekily quipped in the build up to the derby that Sunderland's players would struggle to break into the Newcastle starting line-up, Taylor's words never really looked like backfiring on him after Yohan Cabaye's third minute opener.
Even though Cheik Tiote became the first Newcastle player to be sent off during one of these competitive fixtures, Sunderland looked incapable of breaking down the Magpies' defence, which was exceptionally well-marshalled by Fabricio Coloccini.
But after Coloccini had made way through injury - ironically replaced by Taylor - the Black Cats finally got the equalising goal their attacking talents looked void of delivering.
When Seb Larsson's free-kick from just inside the Newcastle half was floated towards the penalty area with five minutes remaining there were enough bodies in the box to suggest it would be cleared.
But John O'Shea's glanced header, destined for goalkeeper Tim Krul, deflected off Demba Ba and found its way into the Newcastle net. Almost 45,000 supporters inside the Stadium of Light screamed in relief as much as delight.
A poor record of one home win over Newcastle since 1980 did not improve, but to have claimed the fifth 1-1 draw in the last nine Wear-Tyne matches did ease the frustrations that had been growing over the course of the afternoon.
Even before the game started Newcastle looked the more relaxed. While Sunderland's players finished off their pre-match warm-up, their counterparts from Tyneside took a collective walk into the centre circle to applaud their fans, sitting in the upper tier of the North Stand.
Taylor's pre-match comments should have done much of Martin O'Neill's talking for him. Yet it was Newcastle, who named Taylor on the bench, who took advantage of the first of many simple passing mistakes by those in red and white to take the lead.
When full-back Danny Rose tried to roll into the feet of James McClean the winger slipped on halfway and Newcastle counter-attacked down the right through Hatem Ben Arfa.
Ben Arfa's presence was a constant menace to Rose in the first half, but the very first attack ended in the net. The Frenchman's run and pass was turned goalwards by Ba.
A solid save from Simon Mignolet proved insufficient when Cabaye arrived on cue to fire the rebound into the bottom corner with just two minutes and ten seconds on the clock. Sunderland fans must have feared the worst.
There was a greater efficiency about the way Newcastle began. Sunderland had more of the ball in attacking areas but far too often the decision making and distribution were sub-standard at best.
That was the story of the day, with Krul never seriously tested, both before and after Tiote's dismissal in the 25th minute.
There were threatening moments. Adam Johnson's wayward curl from 12 yards when Rose's cross from the touchline picked out the £10m man at the back post was one of the better ones.
Otherwise Sunderland's shots stemmed from free-kicks or long range. With one there was a routine stop from Krul at his near post to deny Larsson and Craig Gardner struck another inches wide of the upright.
When referee Atkinson dished out the red card, Sunderland's task of equalising should have been made easier.
Despite the sudden injection of hope on Wearside, though, there was little improvement around the penalty area.
Newcastle had a right to question the dismissal initially. Tiote was rash in the challenge on Steven Fletcher, but it was without malice.
The Ivorian midfielder had lost control of the ball in trying to brush off the attention of Jack Colback.
As the ball bounced towards Fletcher, Tiote's right boot went above the ball and connected with Fletcher's shin.
The decision seemed to galvanise Newcastle as a unit. Once manager Alan Pardew pulled Shola Ameobi in favour of the extra midfielder in the shape of James Perch, Newcastle were quite happy to soak up the pressure and hit on the break.
It was a tactic which was required with ten men and the rare Newcastle attacks still looked the more likely to end up in the net.
Ba, playing as the lone striker, went close with an overhead kick shortly before half-time.
He then saw a shot deflected towards the top corner, where Mignolet held it moments afterwards.
When Cabaye's brilliant long pass was brought down by Ba, he looked like he would increase the lead. But Mignolet raced out just in time to put him off and clear.
And just when all seemed lost for Sunderland, there was a late sense of desperation and sudden improvement in the way they attacked, despite the decision to take off both Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon.
Substitute Louis Saha should have equalised when he somehow side-footed a simple chance wide from Larsson's corner.
Then when another of Larsson's deliveries, this time from deep, dropped in the Newcastle area, O'Shea's header changed direction off Ba's midriff and flew past a static Krul.
On the balance of play Sunderland - who went close to a winner through McClean - deserved something.
But it was typical of their toothless attacking this season that it required a helping hand to secure the vital breakthrough in the final stages of the game.
There may not have been a winner, but in the circumstances both sets of supporters should be happy with the point.
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