This was what Eddie Howe and Newcastle United desperately needed, an easy 3-0 away win against their fiercest rivals. A first derby game in eight years, and a chance for Newcastle to beat their neighbours for the first time since 2011.
The build-up was comical, to say the least from a Sunderland point of view. The hosts made Newcastle feel right at home with a PR disaster, decorating one of the hospitality suites in Newcastle colors. The visitors were made to feel right at home on the pitch too, with Sunderland barely laying a glove on the Premier League side.
Newcastle dominated the ball and their press finally returned after vanishing for the last month or so. They were able to train ahead of this game and it made all the difference—the packed schedule has really hampered Newcastle this season, but it's been a big learning curve for all involved.
There's a realization within the club that their summer recruitment, while impressive, wasn't enough to challenge on four fronts. During the first half of the season, Newcastle were bouncing from game to game with very little training time between. It's something the club will have to get used to if they want to make the step up to the elite club category.
Newcastle were patient, and it's the first game in a long time where they were able to show their passing ability, moving the ball through the lines and taking advantage of transitions. The impressive Miggy Almiron and Joelinton set the tone, giving Sunderland no time on the ball at all.
It was Joelinton who produced the opening goal, charging down the left and firing a sumptuous ball Sunderland defender Dan Ballard could only swing a leg at firing it into his own net. Had he not touched it, it’d have been an easy tap-in for Alexander Isak anyway.
The goal gave the visitors a much-deserved half-time lead. Sunderland's message at the break would've been to keep it tight in the opening stages of the second half, but they did the opposite.
It took Newcastle 36 seconds from the restart to double their lead, after a gift from the Sunderland defence. Ekwah dallied on the ball and Almiron picked his pocket. The winger squared to Isak, who wrongfooted Patterson to double the lead.
The result was rubber-stamped when Anthony Gordon burst down the left before Ballard clattered into him to give the visitors a penalty late on, and a chance to give Newcastle a 3-0 lead. Isak made no mistake from the spot, cooly firing home. It was a stroll for Newcastle and something they really needed after a torturous December.
Newcastle are now fighting on two fronts, similar to last season with their journey to the League Cup final, as well as securing a Champions League spot by finishing fourth or better in the Premier League. This victory could be a turning point for their season, and with the schedule easing, they can really push on and claw themselves back up the EPL.
Up next for Newcastle is the visit of Manchester City, a tough game but also one they will feel they can get a result from with a full week of training under their belts. As for The FA Cup, Newcastle will find out who their Fourth Round opponents are on Monday night, where they'll hope for an easy draw and preferably a home tie.