18th November 2000, is a date that will surely stick in the minds of most, it not all Sunderland fans, for the rest of their lives. At least those old enough to remember it, and who possibly also had the privilege to witness first-hand, the momentous event which occurred.
For it was the day that, for the second season in a row, we recorded a 2-1 win versus “The Old Foe” at Sid James Park, once again after we’d recovered from a 0-1 half-time deficit. In the previous season’s encounter, the blame for defeat had been attributed to such factors as Newcastle’s poor start to the season, the monsoon-like conditions, and not least, the fact that the legendary Alan Shearer had started the game on the subs bench. But this time round, there could be no real excuses, for in spite of the rather cold weather, conditions were otherwise more or less ideal, while the Mags’ talisman striker was in their starting line-up. As it turned out, all to no avail!
So in front of a crowd of just over 52,000, Newcastle were soon out of the blocks, and they stunned us by taking the lead in only the fourth minute. Gary Speed, in the only the first minute, had passed up a great chance to put his side ahead, when put clean through. But with only Thomas Sorensen to beat, he shot well wide. However, just three minutes later Speed made amends. For following a cross from Nolberto Solano, Speed sent a bullet header against the upright, but was then quickest to react to the rebound, when he prodded the ball home, much to the delight of the Geordie faithful, who surely now anticipated revenge was on the cards.
Not the start we would have wanted, and we had to withstand further pressure from the home side, who, along with their fanatical fans, were no doubt delighted at having achieved such an early breakthrough, and now possibly sensed that the floodgates may just open. However, with Emerson Thome in particular proving to be a rock at the back, out defence now seemed a lot more composed, after the shock of having conceded such an early goal.
But we weren’t without chances ourselves, as was proved when Newcastle’s ex-SAFC loanee keeper Shay Given was forced to back-pedal rather frantically in order to tip a neat chip from Niall Quinn over the bar. We also appeared to have rather valid claims for a penalty, when Jody Craddock appeared to have his shirt tugged by Alan Shearer inside the area. However, half-time arrived with The Mags still a goal to the good, it had been a fairly even contest so far, with the game still very much retrievable. Could we then go on to turn the tables, and repeat our feat in the previous season’s corresponding encounter?
The answer was a very definite yes, though not before a rather uncertain start to the second period, when we had to withstand further home pressure. But we then began to get on top, with Michael Gray and Kevin Kilbane in particular causing The Mags quite a few problems down the flanks. However, in spite of our newly-found domination, our attacks still lacked any real impact, as we tended to rely mainly on the long-ball tactic. But then following the award of a free-kick, we nearly drew level, for when Don Hutchinson’s ball into the box picked out Niall Quinn, the big Irishman’s close-range header looked bound for the back of the net, until Shay Given pulled off a superb save, flinging himself to his right to palm the ball away.
So it looked it might just be one of those days. But then in the sixty-seventh minute, our pressure finally told. Some fine work by Kevin Phillips on the left culminated with him putting over a rather tantalising cross, and when the ball eluded it’s intended target, Quinn (who did in all truth, looked to have been fouled), it found it’s way to Don Hutchison at the far post, who gleefully rammed home the equaliser. Cue delirium amongst the travelling contingent.
Newcastle responded strongly to this setback, and we had rather a big let-off, when Solano struck the upright with a free-kick, with Sorensen rooted to the spot. But after having successfully survived a fair degree of Mag pressure, we stunned home players and fans alike, by taking the lead in the seventy-fifth minute. The move began with Sorensen throwing the ball out to Gray, who then combined well on the left with Alex Rae, before he sent over a perfect cross to pick out Quinn, whose header left Given quite helpless. Cue more delirium amongst the travelling contingent!
No doubt shell-shocked by the turn of events, The Mags tried to respond, and five minutes from time, it looked as if they had gained a reprieve, when Quinn appeared to have gone “from hero to zero”, after he rather clumsily fouled Robert Lee inside the box. The spot-kick was entrusted to who else but Alan Shearer, and I, no doubt along with most other Mackems, feared the worst, what in view of the Toon hero’s lethal marksmanship.
However, Sorensen then earned himself SAFC legendary status, when he beat aside Shearer’s powerful kick, much to the delight of his team-mates and travelling fans alike. The stuff that legends/dreams are truly made of!
We then had to endure a few nervy final few minutes, as Newcastle desperately sought to retrieve the game. But we held out, and the final whistle not surprisingly sparked scenes of joy amongst players and fans alike, after we had for the second season in a row, come from behind to win in “the backyard” of our fierce local rivals, the “cherry on the cake”undoubtedly Sorensen’s superb penalty save from Newcastle and England’s finest. An afternoon that will surely never be forgotten on Wearside, when once again, we’d triumphed by 2-1. Who says that lightning doesn’t strike twice?
Sadly, we couldn’t repeat the feat in the return game at The SOL the following April, when on-loan French defender Patrice Carteron’s first and only SAFC goal was later cancelled out by an Andy O’Brien strike for Bobby Robson’s side, and come the end of the season, we again finished seventh in the Premier League, with the Mags four places worse off.
And while we’d narrowly missed out on European qualification again, as far as our North East rivalry was concerned perhaps, at long last, the balance of power was starting to swing back in our direction once again. It was certainly a good time to be a Sunderland fan…