Unlike the last ten years where we have only ended on the losing side once in the last eleven, avoiding defeat against our nearest and dearest wasn’t so straightforward.
Our victory in the monsoon in August 1999 was our first victory in a standard league fixture (so not including our play-off demolition) since 1980 via a Stan Cummins goal. To find our last triumph at St James’ Park we had to go back a year earlier to Gary Rowell’s famous hat-trick in a 1-4 win in 1979.
Beyond these two we have to back to 1967, so getting back to the original point, this didn’t happen all that often back in the day, and as we had come out on top the previous year in 1999 with a 1-2 win, we were maybe thinking it was wishful thinking that lightning would strike twice.
We had just come off the back of finishing 7th in the Premier League immediately after our record-breaking title-winning season in Nationwide Football League Division One and the jury was out on how we were expected to perform in our second season in the top flight.
Peter Reid strengthened the squad with the likes of Don Hutchison, Stanislav Varga, Emerson Thome and Julio Arca, but the nucleus of the squad from the previous season remained.
As we entered the latter half of November, our season to that point could be described as a mixed bag. Sitting 12th in the table, seven points from the bottom three and seven points behind Liverpool who sat 3rd behind regular title challengers Arsenal and Manchester United.
We were heading into the fixture at St James’ Park on a run of one win in the last four in the Premier League and on the previous Saturday we were maybe fortunate to come away with a draw against Glenn Hoddle’s Southampton at the Stadium of Light.
As far as Newcastle were concerned, the defeat to us in the torrential rain the previous year had been a watershed moment when losing the derby saw the end of Ruud Gullit’s reign as manager, and Bobby Robson returned to domestic English football for the first time since leaving Ipswich in July 1982.
They would end up finishing in a fairly respectable 11th after Robson took the role on as they sat jointly at the foot of the table with Sheffield Wednesday. Up to the point the two sides met on this day 21 years ago in 2000-01, they were sitting three points and five places better off than Sunderland in 7th after a solid start to the season.
Peter Reid, who had collected all of his 13 caps for England under Bobby Robson, had resisted the urge to recall Julio Arca back into the starting XI and stuck with the side that drew seven days prior 2-2 against Southampton.
When we finally got underway, we couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. In the opening 18 seconds, Gary Speed went through on goal but could only slice his shot wide to give Sunderland an early warning sign.
A warning sign we didn’t learn from when four minutes into the game a looping ball into the box from Nolberto Solano was met with a towering header from Gary Speed after a trademark late run into the box, that smashed against the foot of the left-hand post before rebounding straight back to the Welsh captain on the floor, who hooked it home from six yards out.
In what was already a tough task, it was made even tougher against a much improved Newcastle side from the year before. Sunderland almost replied after ten minutes when Niall Quinn attempted to chip the ball over Shay Given from the edge of the box, only to see his Republic of Ireland team-mate tip over the bar to concede the corner.
Alan Shearer also had Graham Poll to thank later in the first half when he held the shirt of Jody Craddock as the Sunderland defender had a clear chance to head home from six yards out, but as usual, at that time the influence of being England captain prevailed.
Otherwise, it was a frustrating half for the Lads and it would be after the break when we started to instill our dominance on the game. An early chance for Niall Quinn from a Don Hutchison free-kick set the tone, and then when Julio Arca replaced Chris Makin just after the hour mark, we stepped it up another gear.
Only moments after the substitution, Kevin Phillips swung a tantalising ball in from the left flank with his left foot that appeared to be finding Quinn at the near post who was under pressure, but instead evaded everyone before Don Hutchison swung his left foot at it at the back post to put Sunderland level.
It was Hutchison’s fifth goal in four games and no less than we deserved in the second half, but Newcastle were unlucky not to hit straight back when a Solano free-kick from all of 30-yards out crashed off the woodwork with Sorensen rooted to the spot.
But then with fifteen minutes left on the clock, Michael Gray and Alex Rae combined perfectly down the left-hand side, where Gray swung in a first-time cross from deep that Niall Quinn met with his head almost directly over the penalty spot. And with a lot still to do to beat Given, looped his header back to where it came and into the far corner of the net.
You will not see a finer header in your life.
Then, as nails were being bitten in the closing stages, a mix-up in the middle of the park gave Robert Lee a chance to drive into the Sunderland area, wide on their left-hand side. After staying back from the previous corner it was Niall Quinn who was in a position to stop the Newcastle midfielder, and he made a complete hash of it.
A nailed-on penalty if you ever saw one. Cue the famous pictures of the Newcastle fans after realising the magnitude of the task ahead for their hero Alan Shearer. Hands over their faces and nervous shouts of “Come On!” as Shearer tentatively placed the ball on the spot.
The England striker’s trademark penalty was to whip the ball out of the keeper’s reach in the top left-hand corner with his right foot, and everyone expected this one to be no different. But he changed it up, he placed it to the goalkeeper's left and after guessing the right way, it was at a perfect height for Sorensen to palm away for a corner.
As the Sunderland players mobbed the Danish international, they could be heard over the stunned silence of the home fans and the celebrations from the Lads’ fans in the top tier of the new stand.
The final eight minutes were nervous, but Graham Poll blew the whistle to give us another amazing night, winning 2-1 at St James’ Park, again.
FA Carling Premiership
Saturday 18th November 2000
Newcastle United 1-2 Sunderland
[Speed 4’ - Hutchison 67’, Quinn 75’]
Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin (Arca), Craddock, Thome, Gray, Hutchison, Williams, Rae, Kilbane, Quinn (Dichio), Phillips Substitutes not used: Macho, Varga, Oster
Newcastle United: Given, Acuna (Barton), Hughes, Caldwell, Domi, Bassedas (Lua-Lua), Lee, Speed, Dyer, Shearer Substitutes not used: Harper, Griffin, Cordone