Rather than surprising everyone with changes, the main talking points from Sunderland came from their lack of alterations. Whilst most were split on whether we'd see a return to the starting line up for Lee Cattermole, it was almost unanimous that John O'Shea would start ahead of Younes Kaboul. So it was quite shock to see Sam Allardyce name both O'Shea and Cattermole on the bench, especially given their experience in the Tyne-Wear derby. Keeping his place, along with Kaboul, was Jack Rodwell who would be part of a midfield three with Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M'Vila. Partnering Kaboul in central defence was Lamine Kone with Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin at left and right back, respectively. Vito Mannone was between the sticks.
The only change for Sunderland, from the 1-1 draw away to Southampton, was Jermain Defoe starting ahead of Dame N'Doye. It would have been harsh to not start Defoe, given the impact he made last time out and Allardyce certainly couldn't drop Fabio Borini after his recent form. Likewise could be said for Wahbi Khazri, who completed Sunderland's front three.
For his second game in charge, Rafa Benitez made two changes from the side that lost 1-0 away to Leicester City. Andros Townsend came into the starting line up, at the expense of Vernon Anita, which lead to Gini Wijnaldum taking up a slightly deeper role alongside Jonjo Shelvey, as Townsend started wide on the right. Upfront was Alexander Mitrovic with Ayoze Perez occupying the number ten role and Moussa Sissoko on the left wing. In defence, Chancel Mbemba returned from a heel injury and was thrown straight into the starting line up to partner Jamaal Lascelles, who was preferred ahead of Steven Taylor. Continuing to fill in at left back was ex-Sunderland man Jack Colback, a role he'd first played in during his time on Wearside, on the opposite side was Dutch international Daryl Janmaat. In goal for Newcastle was Rob Elliot who was making his third derby appearance.
Before the departure of Steve McClaren, Sunderland would have came into this game happy to concede possession and look to exploit Newcastle's frailties on the counter attack. It would have been a game plan that revolved around getting through the first twenty minutes unscathed and just wait for Newcastle's inevitable anxiety (from both players and supporters) to creep in before hurting them. With a new manager comes new belief though and Sunderland would now have to try and seize the early initiative, to ensure that their rivals confidence didn't bloom.
Stopping Newcastle's midfielders from expressing themselves would be Sunderland's biggest task of the afternoon. They'd have to keep Jonjo Shelvey from displaying his range of passing, whilst making sure Gini Wijnaldum was halted from running forward with the ball at the earliest opportunity. It would be up to Jack Rodwell and Yann M'Vila to press both of Newcastle's central midfielders as Jan Kirchhoff would spend most of his time, off the ball, dealing with Ayoze Perez.
The key battles in the game would be coming from the wide areas. Patrick van Aanholt would have his hands full, up against Andros Townsend and the Sunderland left back would need to make sure that the former Spurs man wasn't allowed to do his favourite move of cutting inside. At the other end, and flank, Fabio Borini would be looking to give his former team mate Jack Colback a torrid afternoon. Borini would be looking to exploit a player playing out of his natural position, with additional support provided by DeAndre Yedlin.
There was only a 4% difference in the possession in the opening twenty minutes but it was Sunderland who were creating the clearest chances. After only two minutes Patrick van Aanholt floated in a cross that was nodded down by Fabio Borini, to Jermain Defoe who took a touch with his back to goal, before firing high over the crossbar.
Perhaps Defoe should have left the ball for the oncoming Wahbi Khazri, who would have had a clearer sight of goal, but It was a nice early move from Sunderland and forcing an early chance was certainly a good way of not letting Newcastle settle into the game.
With only seven minutes gone, a quick free kick from Jonjo Shelvey set Andros Townsend away down the right wing whose clipped cross found Alexandar Mitrovic but the Serbian, just like Defoe, couldn't keep his effort down. A frantic start to the game continued after Wahbi Khazri sent in one of his trade mark set piece balls, which hung up perfectly for Jack Rodwell, but his header was well tipped over by Rob Elliot. How the chance came about was perhaps more telling though, Fabio Borini did well to get onto the end of Younes Kaboul's long ball and drew a foul from Jack Colback. It was to be the first of three Colback fouls (all on Borini) in an eight minute spell, one of which earned him a booking, a clear indication of how much difficultly the former Black Cat was having in containing his former colleague.
Looking to further exploit Colback's vulnerability, Sunderland then created another opportunity down Newcastle's left. DeAndre Yedlin's overlapping run allowed Wahbi Khazri to slip him in and Jack Rodwell received the ball from the USA international, after a good run forward. Rodwell's low cross was hit first time by Jermain Defoe but shot only found the side netting, the ripples fooling the Sunderland fans high up in the away end into thinking their side had taken the lead.
It was clear now that Sunderland were in the ascendancy and they looked the morel likely of the sides to break the deadlock. A run forward from Fabio Borini drew a foul from Chancel Mbemba but Wahbi Khazri's shot from the resulting free kick was never troubling Rob Elliot. Not long after Newcastle saw themselves handed a similar chance, albeit from closer in, when Jonjo Shelvey fired a freekick wide from around 20 yards. It was the closest the Magpies had came for a while though and with Sunderland creating more chances, targeting Newcastle effectively in the right areas and keeping their creative players quiet, they'll have been pleased with their opening half hour.
Sunderland didn't relent during the final fifteen minutes of the half. The away side had the more shots and won more tackles, showing their hunger and desire to control the game. It looked like half time was about to called with Sunderland kicking themselves for not leading at the interval but just like they'd done in the two previous derbies, they struck on the stroke of half time. Fabio Borini's attempted pass to DeAndre Yedlin was cut out by Jack Colback and put out for a Sunderland corner. In a training ground effort, Wahbi Khazri played the ball outside the box to Borini who took a touch before unleashing a powerful shot towards the Newcastle goal. A deflection off Alexandar Mitrovic could only allow Rob Elliot to parry the ball up into the air and, under pressure from Jack Rodwell, Chancel Mbemba could only flick the ball towards Jermain Defoe. Showing his quality, Defoe watched the ball down all the way before volleying into the far, bottom corner. Half time and Sunderland had a deserved lead.
Just two minutes into the second half and Newcastle would get their best chance of the game. A corner from Andros Townsend tempted Vito Mannone enough to rush off his line but was beaten to the ball by Alexandar Mitrovic who flicked on to Ayoze Perez at the back post. Perez had been having a fairly quiet afternoon, with only 20 touches so far, but he was unlucky not to level the scores as Yann M'Vila cleared his shot off the line.
Newcastle were getting into something of a rhythm early in the second half. Just five minutes after Perez's chance, Moussa Sissoko sent in a good cross to Mitrovic but his header was comfortably saved by Mannone. The home side were almost instantly made to pay for their wastefulness after some good, awkward trickery from Wahbi Khazri created an opening for Patrick van Aanholt, whose shot was excellently saved by Rob Elliot. It was the kind of shot where you felt if it was even an inch higher/lower or to the left/right it would have burst the net but Elliot got there and kept Newcastle's hopes alive.
On the 66 minute mark, Rafa Benitez made the games first big tactical change by brining on Siem De Jong for Jack Colback, shifting Moussa Sissoko to left back and Ayoze Perez to the wing. It was an understandable change, Colback had struggled against Borini and was on a booking whilst Perez hadn't had much joy down the middle. It was turning into a fairly uneventful second half though with Sunderland looking to consolidate whilst still leading. Newcastle were ramping things up though, in the opening half an hour of the second half they had 59% of the possession and nine shots, by far their most dominant period of the game. To Sunderland's credit though, they were matching up against them as in the same period as they won more tackles and were even with Newcastle on aerial duels won.
Sam Allardyce's response to Newcastle's period of dominance was to bring on John O'Shea for the tiring Younes Kaboul and Dame N'Doye for Wahbi Khazri. The defensive change wouldn't alter Sunderland's approach but Allardyce would hoping for N'Doye to hold the ball up in Newcastle's half for longer, after the Black Cats had struggled to keep the Magpies out of their half as they began to play more of the game without the ball.
Just eight minutes after Sunderland had made their change on the left hand side, Newcastle found some joy down there. Gini Wijnaldum got the better of N'Doye to float a ball to the back post and Alexandar Mitrovic beat DeAndre Yedlin to the header to draw Newcastle level. Sunderland had been made to pay for not putting the game beyond Newcastle and for inviting pressure on themselves. With Jan Kirchhoff tiring, and eventually substituted just after the goal, Sunderland lost their foothold on the game and Newcastle took advantage.
Mitrovic's goal was to be the last real chance of the game and Sunderland's winning run over Newcastle had come to end with a 1-1 draw. It was a game neither side could afford to lose but no one would have celebrated the points being shared more than fellow relegation rivals, Norwich City.
For the third consecutive game, Sunderland have had to settle for a draw in a game they should have won. Sure, it wasn't the implosion we witnessed against Crystal Palace and it wasn't as gut wrenching as Southampton's last minute equaliser but it's a worry all the same. Sam Allardyce was visibly gesturing on the touchline for his team to play further up the pitch so is it a mentality problem? Is fear and anxiety creeping in when defending a lead? Whether that's the case or not, it's a still a problem and Sunderland must start turning games like this into wins if they want to stay up.
Jan Kirchhoff attempted 13 tackles, much more than any other player on the pitch.
One thing Sunderland can definitely be pleased with is the performance of their midfield. Jan Kirchhoff was the best player on the pitch and him tiring certainly played a part in Sunderland losing their grip on the game. Making more tackles than anyone else in the game, with eight, Kirchhoff was key to Sunderland's good showing for the first hour. For reference, his opposite number Jonjo Shelvey, made only three. We know that if Kirchhoff didn't have these fitness problems, he probably wouldn't play for Sunderland but Sam Allardyce has got to try and get him playing at his best for ninety minutes as he look our best player at the moment.
Credit should also go to Jack Rodwell who had possibly his best game since he signed from Manchester City last season. Rodwell was unlucky not to give Sunderland an early lead with a header and his aerial presence was a useful tool for Sunderland as he won three aerial duels in the game, more than any other Sunderland midfielder and joint second most in the whole side. With Rodwell now having a clearly defined role in the team, hopefully we're about to see the best from him and he'll keep pushing forward as well as he has been lately.
In regards to Sam Allardyce's other big call, to play Younes Kaboul ahead of John O'Shea, he was vindicated in that too. Kaboul looked at ease alongside Lamine Kone for the majority of the game and that very well may be Big Sam's preferred defensive partnership for the rest of the season, if Kaboul stays fit.
The one decision that Allardyce perhaps should be pulled up on is bringing on Dame N'Doye for Wahbi Khazri. Yes, i can see why he did it but was it so essential to take Khazri off? He'd worked very hard defensively and would have been a decent outlet as Newcastle committed more men forward and grew fatigued. N'Doye was beaten easily by Wijnaldum for the equaliser, which i don't want to criticise him for too much, he's a centre forward so you shouldn't be surprised if he struggles in an area such as that. With each passing game it looks like that if N'Doye is going to play at all, it should be in his preferred position.
Sunderland must keep their heads up after this though and not get bogged down in throwing away another lead. Jermain Defoe once again came up with a hugely important goal and there'll be more of them to come if we keep creating chances like we did against Newcastle. Sunderland have won games this season where they've suffered set backs but outscored the opposition, such as the 4-2 win away at Swansea, if that clean sheet is going to keep eluding them then they need to start converting more chances.
No pressure, Jermain.
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