AMID all the furore that surrounded Saturday’s Wear-Tyne derby, all the talk of bubble buses, bar rebranding and ancient rivalries being renewed, the reality is that the outcome of a football match is generally determined by how the two teams have played.

Newcastle played with spirit, patience and a return of the high-pressing, high-intensity style that has been the hallmark of the majority of their time under Eddie Howe. Sunderland played into their hands. As a result, Newcastle were finally able to celebrate another derby victory at the tenth time of asking while Sunderland were left to lick their wounds and reflect on what might have been.

Off the pitch, the derby lived up to its billing as a febrile exemplar of the passions and loyalties that create and maintain the North-East’s chief geographical and cultural divide. On it, it was a game that never really got going. Having been accused, in the eyes of the fans, of rolling out the welcome mat to their bitterest rivals in the build-up to the game, Sunderland then proceeded to do exactly the same once it had got going. Newcastle won without having to get out of first gear.

Let’s start with the victors then, and aside from losing Joelinton to yet another injury issue at the start of the second half, it is hard to imagine how the first derby in almost eight years could have gone any better for the Magpies.

Unlike Sunderland, Newcastle were widely praised by the fans for the way in which they handled the pre-match preliminaries, culminating in the free scarves, food and water that were handed out to supporters as they queued at St James’ waiting for the compulsory bus service that was to take them to Wearside.

Once the game began, it was immediately clear that Howe had manoeuvred his players to the perfect sweet spot between understanding the importance of the occasion while also having the calmness and authority to trust in their own game.

From the off, Newcastle dominated possession – by the final whistle, they had had 64 per cent of the ball – and while it took them the best part of half-an-hour to start creating clear-cut chances, their control of the game was pretty much total throughout.

Bruno Guimaraes was their orchestrator-in-chief, finding pockets of space at the heart of midfield and dictating the pace of the game with a series of slick, short passes, and it was his through ball that released Joelinton down the left to deliver the cross that Dan Ballard turned into his own net for Newcastle’s opener.

The Northern Echo: Bruno Guimaraes leads the post-match celebrations after Newcastle's winBruno Guimaraes leads the post-match celebrations after Newcastle's win (Image: PA)

Alexander Isak added the second in the opening minute of the second half, slotting home after Miguel Almiron had robbed a dawdling Pierre Ekwah of possession, and the Swede sealed the victory in the final minutes as he stroked home from the spot following a Ballard foul on Anthony Gordon.

The win took Newcastle into the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time under Howe, but more importantly, drew a line under the difficulties of the last month and prevented a somewhat uncomfortable situation from escalating into anything worse.

The club’s owners might not regard seeing off Sunderland as the be all and end all, although the way in which Amanda Staveley celebrated Isak’s penalty in a post that was widely shared on social media on Saturday evening suggests that she, at least, has fully bought into the regional rivalry, but for the fans, beating the Black Cats was the ideal way to move on from a challenging spell. If nothing else, the notion of any pressure being piled on Howe and his players from the stands has completely disappeared.


“The bigger the game, the more you enjoy it – if you win,” said the Magpies boss. “I think we enjoyed the occasion. It was nothing new really for us in a sense of the high-profile games that we have played, the atmospheres that we've played in, the grounds we've visited.

“But we certainly knew the importance of the result for our supporters and we're so pleased for them. This fixture is hugely important for everyone connected with the club, none more so than our supporters. You could see the numbers they supported us with, and the noise they made and dedication they showed. We haven’t given them a lot to shout about on the road this year, so I was delighted to be able to do that.”

For Sunderland, the defeat capped a miserable end to a tortuous couple of weeks. The debacle around the rebranding of the Black Cats Bar will not be readily forgotten, and for all that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ public apology took some of the sting out of a shocking misjudgement, the fractures that were already beginning appear between fanbase and ownership have widened.

Rightly or wrongly, that piles further pressure on Michael Beale, a head coach that no one really wanted, succeeding a predecessor that no one really wanted to be sacked, but while questions can be asked of the Sunderland boss’ handling of Saturday’s game, his general refusal to stray too far from the principles he is trying to instill into his players was understandable.

Sunderland’s continued attempts to play out from the back were suicidal given the quality of Newcastle’s press, as were the home side’s repeated forays through midfield when the discrepancy between the standard of the two sets of players in that area of the pitch was so stark.

The Northern Echo: Alex Pritchard shows his disappointment during Sunderland's defeatAlex Pritchard shows his disappointment during Sunderland's defeat (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Having spent the opening three weeks of his reign stressing the need to retain possession, build from the back and take risks if required, though, it would have been counter-intuitive for Beale then to have told his young players to forget all that just because they were playing against Newcastle. In the long term, the Sunderland boss might well benefit from having stuck to his guns.

That said, though, it is still hard to fathom why it took him until the 85th minute to make his first change when things were clearly not working, and he could still have told Jack Clarke to start tracking back to help Aji Alese instead of standing 40 yards in front of his full-back when Kieran Trippier was pouring forward to support Almiron down Newcastle’s right-hand side. It was not a good afternoon for Clarke, who was easily shackled by Trippier whenever he looked to cut inside.

Could Sunderland’s players have been more robust, getting into the faces of their opponents in an attempt to knock them off their stride? Possibly. Although that is not really Beale’s style, and given that the Black Cats squad is largely comprised of young, technically-gifted ball-players, it is probably not an approach that would have worked anyway. Sometimes, no matter how galling, you simply have to accept that the gulf in class between you and your opposition is too big to bridge.

“We’ve got 20 huge games now, and the focus has to be on what happens on the football pitch,” said Beale. “We’re in a really good place. We’ve got as good a chance of anyone of getting into those play-off positions, but we’re going to need to be united as a football club for that to happen, for sure. We’ve got the biggest away following in the Championship, and we’ll be counting on that next week away at Ipswich.”