We left it late to avoid a crushing seventh straight defeat to the Mackems, but came away with a result that could ultimately condemn us both to relegation. Benitez dropped Taylor and Anita for his first game in front of an SJP crowd with Townsend and Mbemba returning to the side and what had been hyped up as the most important derby in half a century started with us taking the game to them in the early stages. Our early pressure in reality only lasted about ten minutes, with the only half chance coming to Mitrovic from a pull back with the finish ending up high and wide.
Sunderland took a hold of the game, with Kirchoff and Rodwell dominating the middle of the park and our only forward momentum coming through Townsend’s direct play and they created three chances that could have led to the opening goal. Eliott turned over a header from a corner before Defoe shot into the side netting with the Mackems at the other end of the ground celebrating a goal. Colback, already booked by this point was having a torrid time, mainly due to the fact that he is utter fucking garbage, against makeshift winger Borini and another cross from that side flashed across the face of goal with Defoe inches away from getting a touch.
We needed to get to half time having weathered their pressure but failed to do so when they took the lead a minute before the break. It was a poor goal defensively when they played a corner to a completely unmarked Borini on the edge of the 18 yard box and there was an element of fortune when his shot deflected into the path of Defoe but he made no mistake, firing past Eliott inside of the box. I made Kirchoff their best player by a mile but Defoe reminded us of what we’ve missed this season – a striker with an eye for goal who constantly pressed and chased down our defenders.
After an early chance when Perez saw an effort cleared off the line by M’Vila, there was almost an air of inevitability at the start of the second half when the game fell into a familiar pattern and Eliott was again called on to make a smart stop when he pushed van Aanholts strike over from point blank range. The game only started to switch in our favour when Benitez made the first of three substitutions on the hour mark, with the awful and now thankfully suspended Colback hooked off for de Jong, with Sissoko slotting into the unfamiliar position of left back. He offered some forward momentum down the flank and although he often (rightly) derided for his input into games, I actually thought he was alright today.
We were huffing and puffing when Anita and Cisse were brought on for Janmaat and Townsend in quick succession and with a bit of mobility up front from the Senegalese coupled with O’Shea , on as sub and struggling to keep up we finally got an equaliser from virtually nowhere when a looped Wijnaldum cross was met by a leaping Mitrovic to plant a header across goal and past Mannone. Mitrovic struggled again today, but so poor has the service been to him that you do wonder if there could be a player there if we could get some decent ball into him. That might be optimistic based on past evidence but either way, this was an absolutely vital equaliser and was followed by a comedy, top off celebration that saw the Serb tumbling over a portly pitch invader.
There was an unlikely victory in the air and we threw everything forward at them but when the goalscorer had to leave the field of play concussed leaving us to see the last couple of minutes out with ten men, we held on for a point and finally put an end to a nightmare sequence of defeats against our nearest and dearest. I suppose in the circumstances, there is a large element of relief that we didn’t get beat, but tinged with a nagging feeling that we have left it too late to bring in a decent manager to drag us away from what looks like an increasingly precarious position.
If anything, Saturday’s game is even bigger than this one. Were we to go to Norwich and lose, we’d be six points away from safety and arguably, a point down there won’t really do either. I’ve heard plenty of people say that we’ll stay up if we beat Norwich, Palace, Swansea and Villa but I look at those reverse fixtures this season and see four points. Logic says that a side that only has a win ratio of one in five this season is unlikely to make it one in two this late in the season, but for now we have to cling on to blind faith. We would absolutely have lost today under McClaren and a failure to close out a game they probably should have won will be damaging to the Mackems, who are another key relegation rival.
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – ELIOTT 6, Janmaat 6 (Cisse 6), Mbemba 6, Lascelles 5, Colback 3 (de Jong 6), Shelvey 6, Wijnaldum 4, Sissoko 6, Townsend 6 (Anita 6), Perez 5, Mitrovic 6
Ref – Atkinson – 5 – Poor, didn’t seem to want to call any big decisions and gave cards for next to nowt.
Our Fans – 6 – Noisy for the first ten and last ten minutes, quiet other than that
Their Fans – 6 – Contributed as much or as little to the atmosphere as our fans
GARETH HARRISON – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
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