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Fletcher's header splits the teams on Wearside
SUNDERLAND boast a half-time advantage over their Wear-Tyne derby rivals Newcastle after Steven Fletcher's early header broke the deadlock at the Stadium of Light.
Fletcher headed home Adam Johnson's fifth-minute cross to fire the Black Cats into the lead, and Gustavo Poyet's side are good value for their lead at the break.
Newcastle started extremely slowly, and while they began to dominate possession towards the end of the opening period, they are still to trouble Keiren Westwood in the Sunderland goal.
Given their perilous position at the foot of the table, the Wearsiders desperately needed a positive start to engender some optimism.
Committed and energetic from the off as they harried their opponents whenever they were in possession, the hosts could not have wished for a better start as they broke the deadlock in the fifth minute.
Johnson played a neat short corner routine with Seb Larsson, and after the England international stood up a cross to the back post, Fletcher out-jumped Paul Dummett to head home from close range.
Sunderland's attackers had clearly been instructed to target Dummett from the off, and the youngster, who has spent most of his academy days as a full-back, appeared shell-shocked in the early stages.
He was caught dawdling again in the 17th minute after Tim Krul had parried Fletcher's 20-yard shot, and Jozy Altidore almost nipped ahead of him to convert the rebound.
With Fletcher also heading wide from an Andrea Dossena cross, Sunderland were rampant in the opening 20 minutes.
Newcastle's only opportunity in that period came to nothing when Yohan Cabaye shot over the crossbar from distance, but the visitors gradually found their rhythm as the first half wore on.
Cabaye was their key performer, pulling the strings at the heart of midfield, but Keiren Westwood did well to reach the Frenchman's dangerous cross ahead of the onrushing Moussa Sissoko.
Alan Pardew changed formations shortly before the hour mark, pushing Loic Remy into the centre-forward role and enabling Hatem Ben Arfa to play in the hole behind his fellow Frenchman, but Westwood is still to make a meaningful save.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Westwood; Bardsley, O'Shea, Cuellar, Dossena; Larsson, Cattermole, Colback, Johnson; Fletcher, Altidore.
Subs (not used): Mannone (gk), Celustka, Roberge, Ki, Gardner, Giaccherini, Borini.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Dummett, Santon; Cabaye, Tiote; Gouffran, Sissoko, Remy; Ben Arfa.
Subs (not used): Elliot (gk), Haidara, Anita, Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Shola Ameobi, Cisse.
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