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Nightmare season turning into dream for Sunderland
Full-time: Newcastle United 0 Sunderland 3
WHAT a season this is shaping up to be for Sunderland and Newcastle United's latest failings in a Tyne-Wear derby can now form a key part of the incredible story.
Whatever happens in the next 14 weeks, fans on Wearside will still be talking about this campaign for decades to come and a second successive 3-0 victory on Tyneside has made it all the more memorable.
It started with a crisis. Defeat after defeat; five of them in six league games and a rebellious dressing room cost Paolo Di Canio his job.
Step forward Gus Poyet. Save the club from relegation was the cry from the boardroom. Four months later and not only does it look he will deliver, this could well end up being the club's most successful season for years.
Sunderland, who spent the majority of the season adrift at the foot of the table, are out of the bottom three, confidence is running through the team with a Capital One Cup final at Wembley to think about … and now there is a rare double over their staunchest rivals to savour.
There are still 13 points separating the Black Cats from their neighbours, but it is safe to assume Newcastle fans would prefer to have had a season like that than the one which is threatening to end in mid-table mediocrity and no cup run.
For Sunderland supporters things, as their fans regularly sing, could still get even better.
A relegation fight has not been won yet but, such was the quality in performance at St James' Park, it is hard to imagine a slide back in to the sort of trouble they found themselves in not too long ago.
Poyet has worked wonders and, on an afternoon when home fans' frustrations with off-the-field issues were clear, his players chose the short trip across the River Tyne as the ideal opportunity to show just how far they have come.
The general improvements during the turnaround mirrors the personal rejuvenation of Sunderland's winger Adam Johnson. He said: “It's funny but these things happen in football.
“People wrote us off two months ago, people said we were down. I kept saying we still have a lot of home games to come. Now we are well up the league. We always had the confidence deep down.”
From the moment Johnson's cheeky chipped pass to the onrushing Phil Bardsley forced Vurnon Anita in to a clumsy challenge in the box in the 19th minute, Sunderland never looked back.
Fabio Borini, the match-winner in October's derby triumph at the Stadium of Light, powered in the lovely spot-kick high to Tim Krul's right and Newcastle were behind.
Sunderland passed the ball around confidently and patiently to torment the Magpies and the second goal just four minutes later effectively won the game there and then.
Adam Johnson taps the ball into the empty net for Sunderland’s second goal
The excellent Jozy Altidore's clever flick sent Jack Colback clear. Steven Taylor's attempt to block only led to Colback's shot on goal being turned in to the path of Johnson by Krul's palm. The winger tapped in at the back post for his sixth in as many matches.
Sunderland were heading for back-to-back wins for the first time in more than a year, a first seasonal double over Newcastle since 1966/67 and three consecutive wins over their old foes for the only time since 1923.
Johnson, in an understandably satisfied mood after the match, said: “It was like April all over again! We have enjoyed coming here haven't we.
“We were confident before the game, with Newcastle losing a few players, suspended and stuff and we capitalised on that. We totally dominated them.
“We just passed the ball and they kept kicking it back to front. We kept picking it up and kept passing it. We aimed to pass them off the pitch, really and it worked.”
The passing statistics do not reflect that. In fact only 8.7 per cent of Newcastle's 322 passes went long, while 17.1 per cent of Sunderland's did.
Yet it felt like Johnson was right. Sunderland, with new signing Liam Bridcutt efficient in front of the back four, were happy to build from defence and when they counter-attacked they did in style.
Newcastle, on the other hand, pressed on plenty of occasions but struggled to breakdown a solid and experienced defence which has benefited significantly by having the balance of a reliable left-back like Marcos Alonso.
Even Hatem Ben Arfa, whose technique and talent can get him beyond most defences, was often forced up blind allies and only Shola Ameobi really came close to scoring.
When the outstanding Colback – applying the tidy finish to Borini's lay-off after Ben Arfa had been dispossessed on half way - completed the victory with the goal his performance deserved with ten minutes remaining, the misery intensified for Newcastle.
One fan walked across the pitch to the dug-out offering to give up his season ticket to Pardew, which is likely to have been more of a dig at the Mike Ashley regime rather than the manager on his own.
Jack Colback is congratulated on scoring Sunderland’s third goal
Pardew said: "We're disappointed in the result and the performance. In terms of attitude and application, winning tackles and headers, I thought we were pretty even. But in terms of possession, we weren't. We lost our heads.
"It's been a tough week for us. We've lost a game here, but it's one game. We have 37 points. The most important thing is that we have a structure to our play and for me, we'll be going back to basics this week, making sure everybody knows what their role is and how we're going to play because.”
While Pardew, who had to deal with the £20m sale of Yohan Cabaye last week without signing a replacement, faces a difficult period, Poyet's six month reign could not have gone much better.
As a player the Uruguayan was labelled the scurge of Newcastle by Sir Bobby Robson for scoring five goals in seven games – and that has carried over in to management, both at Brighton and now Sunderland.
Johnson, full of smiles as he walked off the pitch to receive a hug from coach Charlie Oatway, said: “Gus is a top man. The staff as well, we all have a good camaraderie. The lads love playing for him. All the staff have been fantastic. Maybe they have given us the confidence without us knowing it.”
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