Newcastle beat Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Here's a blow-by-blow of the action.
The start was a nervy one, as expected. Within three minutes, Tim Krul hit a goal kick down the field that no Newcastle player had a chance of getting, Danny Simpson committed a turnover, Jonas Gutierrez handled the ball leading to a free kick in the defensive third, and Ryan Taylor got completely undressed by Ahmed Elmohamady. Of course, there was the requisite heartstopper inside of 10 minutes, as Asamoah Gyan failed to finish a fine cross from Jack Colback before Krul was forced to stop a cracker from Stephane Sessegnon. Some nifty footwork by Cheik Tiote and some pacy runs by Gabriel Obertan backed the mackems off however, and it wasn't long before Newcastle were doing some threatening of their own, but they were still vulnerable to the counterattack.
More after the jump...
Then, at 15 minutes, Howard Webb and his assistant missed a handball in the box by Sebastian Larsson off of a Joey Barton header that absolutely would have gone in the net. A corner was awarded, which is nuts. If the officials saw the ball go off of Larsson, why couldn't they see that it caromed directly off his arm? It was just about as straightforward a handball as you'll ever see. The result should have been a penalty shot and a straight red to Larsson.
The Newcastle players could have let that moment get to them and gone into meltdown mode, and for a moment it looked like they might (then again, it always does when Barton is involved). Instead, it gave them a purpose. From that point on, they were more organized and had a direction about their play, though they were far from perfect.
Yohan Cabaye received a yellow in the 25th minute for a studs up play on Phil Bardsley (it easily could have been a red), but fortunately for Newcastle, that didn't sap his aggressiveness. He made several runs at goal and uncorked a couple of fine shots before drawing a booking out of Wes Brown.
The match turned again at 36 minutes when Krul was forced to parry another Sessegnon effort and Ryan Taylor earned a yellow contesting the rebound with Gyan. Up to that point, the defense had been doing an adequate job, but then they started to display some leakiness. Tiote in particular was guilty of trying to be a hero in his own half, leading to a couple of costly turnovers.
To end the first half, both sides had a series of near misses, perhaps most notably a curling shot from Gyan that just went over the bar. Each team will have gone into the half wondering what might have been.
Both sides struggled for control as the second half started, as the play continued to be physical. Cases could be made for yellow cards for both Lee Cattermole and Danny Simpson at different points, but Webb kept his hand in his pocket on both occasions. Just as one team seemed to seize control, the other had something to say about it. Barton and Colback each gave away fantastic opportunities, and neither side could build on the momentum.
Then, right at around 60 minutes, Jonas Gutierrez of all people provided the spark for the Toon. His shot from distance was stopped by Mignolet, and as the rebound bounced around, his possession in traffic drew a foul just outside the box. Ryan Taylor, who had been having a less than stellar game in defense, showed just why he always challenges for selection as he curled an amazing free kick into the far post. Mignolet's play on the shot was less than ideal, but it was a shooter's goal nonetheless.
For the next 5 minutes or so, Newcastle dominated possession and the chances on goal, and Lee Cattermole displayed his displeasure by going in very hard on Jonas. A red would not have been out of line, but the yellow he earned was probably the best decision. The foul itself caused one of those pushing and shoving mobs where everybody acts like a tough guy but nobody does anything, and Barton earned a yellow for his efforts. Ryan Taylor's free kick went well over the bar this time, but it was clear that the Magpies were on the front foot.
Steve Bruce quickly went to his bench, bringing on Ji Dong-Won and Craig Gardner on for Keiran Richardson and Ahmed Elmohamady. The moves seemed to energize Sunderland, but they were unable to put anything of consequence together, and when they did threaten, Krul was equal to the task.
Sunderland turned up the pressure with about 15 minutes to go, but their strategy seemed to be to hit it long and hope. Nice to see that from the opposition for a change. Connor Wickham came on for Larsson a few minutes later, and while I'm sure he has a bright future (I sure did want him here about a month ago), he didn't have quite the impact I'm sure Bruce was expecting, as he was quickly dispossessed by Tiote in the box on his one notable possession.
Alan Pardew made his first move with 85 minutes to go, which is probably a really good metaphor for his tenure at Newcastle so far. Anyway, Dan Gosling came on for Gabriel Obertan, who had started off strong but faded as the game went on. (Another metaphor!) Mike Williamson also came on for Yohan Cabaye as the Toon took a more defensive shape.
A couple of minutes later, Phil Bardsley got his revenge, though on the wrong player, as he flew in to take out Fabricio Coloccini. The studs up play earned him a second yellow and consequently, a sending off. With 10 men, Sunderland had trouble sustaining an attack, and Dan Gosling found himself in alone with the keeper on a counterattack but couldn't finish the job.
Stoppage time was a nervy affair for Newcastle supporters, considering (A) The mackems scored in stoppage during both last season's ties, and (B) there was a full 5 minutes of it, probably a bit generous in my biased opinion. It certainly helped that Newcastle were able to hold possession for the majority of it, and when the referee blew his whistle, that familiar feeling of having triumphed over The Unwashed came back all over again.
We'll have more as the week goes on, but for now, Newcastle once again have bragging rights, and it feels great.