Gus Poyet made two changes to the side which drew 1-1 with West Ham last weekend. Steven Fletcher returned to lead the line for Sunderland with Jozy Altidore dropping to the bench, and an injury to Anthony Reveillere in the warm up meant Poyet was forced to reshuffle his defence just minutes before kick-off.
Sebastian Coates was drafted in for only his second Premier League start for the Black Cats, with John O’Shea moving over to left-back to accommodate the Uruguayan.
Sunderland line up in their familiar 4-1-4-1 formation.
Alan Pardew made two changes to the side demolished 4-1 by Arsenal in the Magpies’ last Premier League outing. Steven Taylor replaced Mike Williamson at the heart of defence, and Moussa Sissoko returned from suspension replacing Pappis Cisse with the Senagalise forward deemed not fit enough to start.
The familiar face of Jack Colback started in midfield, and the occasion marked the former Sunderland man’s first encounter with his former employers.
Newcastle lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Sunderland headed into the derby on the back of a three game unbeaten run and in a richer vein of form than their Tyneside opponents - who had lost three in a row in all competitions since defeating Chelsea earlier this month.
Newcastle have become vulnerable due to their current goalkeeping crisis, 19-year-old Jack Alnwick has struggled to cope with the massive task handed to him, and this was an area which Sunderland could really aim to exploit. The Magpie’s third-choice keeper has conceded 12 in three games, and it’s likely that Poyet will have instructed his side to deploy an almost ‘shoot on sight’ approach ahead of Sunday’s game in the hope that putting pressure on the youngster in such an occasion may aid Sunderland in grabbing all three points.
Aside from targeting Newcastle’s current weaknesses, it’s likely that Poyet will have instructed his side to perform as they have been in many respects. The Black Cats have been tight defensively of late, and aside from some carelessness in attacking areas Sunderland have looked reasonably impressive.
As we all know, in a game as intense as the Tyne-Wear derby any real structure and method of play can quickly melt into the occasion. As emotions ride high and nerves are stretched, it can be difficult to identify significant aspects of any in-game tactics, with a manager’s job often instead to ensure his side remain focussed and perform the absolute basics under extreme pressure.
To best cover Sunderland’s FOURTH successive victory over Newcastle United, I’m going to instead look closely at the Black Cats’ defensive and attacking performance on the day, and locate the precise moment which led to Sunderland winning the game.
As you would probably expect under the circumstances, Sunderland’s defence started shaky and in the very early stages it appeared as though the Black Cats were going to be in for a very long 90 minutes of football. Newcastle had the best of the early exchanges, and it was noticeable that Pardew had instructed his side to attack specifically down the right-hand side in order to target an out-of-position John O’Shea at left-back. Much to Sunderland’s credit, the makeshift defence quickly adapted and as the game progressed looked strong and organised – eventually keeping a very respectable clean sheet.
Sunderland actually sometimes benefited from having four natural centre-backs on the pitch, especially when defending set pieces.
Newcastle United corners.
There was a definite physical presence in Sunderland’s favour, and Newcastle were unsuccessful in each of their corners delivered aerially into the box.
I’ve been critical of Sunderland’s attacking impetus this season – and for good reason – but on Sunday the Black Cats were the superior side offensively, and created more clear cut chances than their opposition over the course of 90 minutes.
There were definite signs in Sunderland’s play which suggested Poyet had indeed instructed his players to test Jack Alnwick at any given opportunity, although the majority of the finishing lacked quality, and the Black Cats managed to put only three of their 16 attempts on target.
One major plus point for Sunderland on Sunday was their movement off the ball in attacking phases, and their ability to keep the ball alive in the final third without the support of any natural full-backs. The perfect example of this was the winning goal. Even though it occurred from a quick counter-attacking move as a Newcastle attacking phase broke down, the fluidness of Sunderland’s approach play and movement to carve out the opportunity was absolutely perfect.
One man that deserves special praise for his performance is Steven Fletcher. I’ve been critical of Sunderland’s strikers this season and last week stated my belief that none were capable of playing the lone centre-forward role efficiently, however Fletcher made a huge statement on Sunday. He linked up well, was dominant aerially and did a great job bringing supporting midfielders into the play. The 27-year-old still needs to bring some goals back into his game to convince me he can continue to lead the line, but all in all, he put in a very solid display.
Poyet v Pardew
The Sunderland manager got the upper hand over Alan Pardew yet again, although it was a decision made by the Newcastle boss that effectively lost his side the match - and handed all three points to the Black Cats.
Pardew’s decision on 74 minutes to withdraw Cheik Tiote for Pappis Cisse and change to a 4-4-2 system in order to chase the win at all cost was an idiotic and catastrophic error. It played right into the hands of Poyet’s side who were then able to overload Newcastle on the break, and in fact could have scored more than once in the closing fifteen minutes.
Last month in the 0-0 draw with Chelsea I highlighted a similar situation. As Sunderland defended sternly Jose Mourinho also in his frustration chose to throw on an extra forward, and was in the end lucky to leave the Stadium of Light with a point as the Black Cats went close on the break on more than one occasion.
You have to commend Poyet’s patience and foresight. He waited and waited on Sunday, and almost as soon as Pardew committed a second striker Will Buckley was introduced to add legs on the break and the rest was history. It’s almost as though the trap was set and Pardew walked right into it. I’m sure Poyet will be very pleased with himself, and Pardew himself must accept full responsibility for his side’s defeat.
A fantastic result and aside from the rivalry an important win that ensures Sunderland will just about head into next year free of any pressing relegation fears. Three points against Hull on boxing day would give the Black Cats 22 points at the half-way mark in the season, and in my opinion cap off a very successful start to the campaign.
Larsson rightfully awarded MOM, but a tremendous effort from all involved on Sunday.